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John Peter Russell

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John Peter Russell (16 June 1858 – 30 April 1930) was an Australian impressionist painter. Born and raised in Sydney, Russell moved to Europe in his late teenage years to attend art school. A "man's man", popular with other students, Russell befriended fellow pupil Vincent van Gogh, and painted the first portrait of the future world-famous artist, now held at the Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh maintained correspondence with Russell throughout his life. Russell's work was also admired by the French Impressionists, with whom he often painted. Russell returned to Sydney in old age, where he died. His works are held in major galleries in his home country and in Europe.

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John Peter Russell (16 June 1858 – 30 April 1930) was an Australian impressionist painter. Born and raised in Sydney, Russell moved to Europe in his late teenage years to attend art school. A "man's man", popular with other students, Russell befriended fellow pupil Vincent Van Gogh, and painted the first portrait of the future world-famous artist, now held at the Van Gogh Museum. Van Gogh maintained correspondence with Russell throughout his life. Russell's work was also admired by the French Impressionists, with whom he often painted. Russell returned to Sydney in old age, where he died. His works are held in major galleries in his home country and in Europe.

John Peter Russell was born at the Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst, the eldest of four children of John Russell, a Scottish engineer, his wife Charlotte Elizabeth, née Nicholl, from London. J. P. Russell was a nephew of Sir Peter Nicol Russell. After his father's death J. P. Russell enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on 5 January 1881 and studied under Alphonse Legros for three years. Russell then went to Paris to study painting under Fernand Cormon. His fellow students there included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Émile Bernard. Russell was a man of means and, having married a beautiful Italian, Marianna Antonietta Mattiocco, he settled at Belle Île off the coast of Brittany, where he established an artists' colony. He would have 11 children with Mattiocco, of whom six survived.

Russell had met Vincent van Gogh in Paris and formed a friendship with him. Van Gogh spoke highly of Russell's work, and after his first summer in Arles in 1888 he sent twelve drawings of his paintings to Russell, to inform him about the progress of his work. Claude Monet often worked with Russell at Belle Île and influenced his style, though it has been said that Monet preferred some of Russell's Belle Île seascapes to his own. Due to his substantial private income Russell did not attempt to make his pictures well known.

In 1897 and 1898 Henri Matisse visited Belle Île. Russell introduced him to impressionism and to the work of van Gogh (who was relatively unknown at the time). Matisse's style changed radically, and he would later say "Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained colour theory to me."

Russell's daughter, Madame Jeanne Jouve, known in Paris as a singer, has stated that he had built up a collection of impressionist works – van Gogh, Gauguin, Bernard, Guillaumin – which he intended to give to Australia, but none is known to have survived beyond his death. In 1907, Marianna Russell died in Paris. Grief-stricken, Russell buried her next to his home and destroyed 400 of his oils and watercolours. Auguste Rodin despaired at the destruction of "those marvels", and in one of his final letters to Russell, said "Your works will live, I am certain. One day you will be placed on the same level with our friends Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh." Russell returned to Sydney, where he later suffered a heart attack and died in 1930.

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John Peter Russell Artworks
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