John Russell RA (29 March 1745 – 20 April 1806) was an English painter renowned for his portrait work in oils and pastels, and as a writer and teacher of painting techniques.
Russell was born in Guildford, Surrey, the son of John Russell Snr., book and print seller and five times mayor of the town; his father was something of an artist, and drew and published two views of Guildford. Russell was educated at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, and soon showed a strong inclination for art. He trained under Francis Cotes RA (of Cavendish Square, London), one of the pioneers of English pastel painting, and, like Cotes, was an admirer of the pastel drawings of Rosalba Carriera whose methods influenced his technique of "sweetening". At the age of 19 he converted to Methodism, which was the cause of tension with his family and with his teacher; he made no secret of his strong evangelical leanings and would attempt to preach and convert at every opportunity.
Russell set up his own studio, in London, in 1767. He made the acquaintance of the notorious Dr. William Dodd, whose portrait he painted in 1768. He was introduced to Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, who unsuccessfully attempted to persuade him to give up painting and attend her Methodist ministers' training college at Trevecca in Wales. On 5 February 1770, he married Hannah Faden, daughter of a Charing Cross print and map seller, whom he had converted. They lived at No. 7 Mortimer Street, Cavendish Square, where he had moved in 1770.
Russell's work caused him to travel extensively around Britain. In 1772, he wrote Elements of Painting with Crayons, by which time he had won premiums for his drawings from the Society of Arts in 1759 and 1760, and entered the Royal Academy school of art in 1770, winning its gold medal for figure drawing the same year. He exhibited at the Society of Artists of Great Britain in 1768 and showed 330 works at the Academy between 1769 until and his death.
In 1770, Russell painted Methodist minister, George Whitefield (engraved by James Watson) and the future philanthropist, William Wilberforce, then only eleven years old. In 1771, he exhibited a portrait in oils of Charles Wesley at the Royal Academy and, in 1772, painted Selina, Countess of Huntingdon in pastel. This was a symbolic picture, and was lost on its voyage out; but it was engraved, and he later also painted her in oils. Also in that year he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy. The following year, 1773, he painted John Wesley (engraved by Bland).
In 1788, after a long wait, Russell was elected a royal academician, in the same year painting a portrait of the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks. In 1789, he was commissioned to portray the royal physician Francis Willis. The results obviously pleased the monarch as, in 1790, he was appointed Crayon (pastel) Painter to King George III, Queen Charlotte, the Prince of Wales (both of whom Russell also painted) and the Duke of York. With such royal patronage, he developed a large and fashionable clientele.
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