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John Peter Russell - Artwork and Relationship

Colleagues in Art : Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Paul Signac, Emile Bernard, Louis Anquetin, John Peter Russell and Charles Laval. Allying with the independent artists of Paris ...

Leading figures of the 19th-century avant-garde in Paris





Youth of John Peter Russell

Youth of John Peter Russell

John Peter Russell was born on 16 June 1858 at Darlinghurst, Sydney, eldest of four children of John Russell, Scottish engineer, and his wife Charlotte Elizabeth, née Nicholl, a Londoner. His father had migrated as a boy and was a partner in his brother's engineering firm, (Sir) P. N. Russell & Co. John Peter was educated with his brother Percy (later an architect) at The Goulburn School, Garroorigang. From 18 he trained as a gentleman apprentice with the engineering firm, Robey & Co., Lincoln, England, where he became a qualified engineer (later he was able to cast the keel of his yacht himself at Belle Ile). He maintained his childhood interest in art and made his first experiments with water-color, delineating the Gothic outlines of Lincoln Cathedral in a misty light.

In 1877 John Russell wound up the ailing Sydney engineering works. He died suddenly in 1879: John Peter found himself with substantial means and freedom to choose his own career. After twelve months in Sydney to sort out his affairs, he enrolled at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London, on 5 January 1881. He spent four terms spread over three years under Alphonse Legros, an émigré Frenchman who emphasized draughtsmanship and memory training, then some eighteen months in Paris under Fernand Cormon. For some seven years he studied painting as it suited him, restless and unsettled, constantly breaking the routine for painting tours and holidays.

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Rodin writing to his friend John Peter Russell

Rodin writing to his friend John Peter Russell

John Peter Russell was the only Australian painter to benefit from personal and direct contact with the French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters in the 1880s, during his expatriate years in Europe.

I am a painter of nature, of nature?s moods, of sunlight and the changing temper of the sea, Russell said of himself.

Rodin writing to his friend in 1890 said: I am very happy, dear friend, for you that you cling so enthusiastically to nature. I am sure that your art is now full of sincerity and movement.

How to capture, in the purest and brightest colours, the play of light in nature preoccupied both the French Impressionists of the 1870s and Russell. He was interested in the lighting effects experienced at different hours of the day. Monet expressed his interest in this effect by painting series of works - haystacks, his garden; Russell?s experiments were more spasmodic and not consistent.

One of the overriding concerns of the work of John Peter Russell was how to capture as quickly as possible the brilliance of colour in nature in the simplest possible way. This consisted not of hasty sketches but in finished work in which the purity of colour and intention is maintained.

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. 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. Russell did not attempt to make his pictures well-known.

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