John Russell (1858–1930) is an artist who has largely fallen through the cracks of art history. Neither Australian enough to be incorporated into the history of Australian art, nor French enough to be recognised as a major player in histories of French art, Russell has been consistently overlooked – until now.
The major retrospective of his work curated by Wayne Tunnicliffe, currently on display at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, makes the case for the insertion of Russell into the grand narrative of modern art by situating him alongside some of the most iconic Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Symbolist artists of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries: Claude Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse, and others. The exhibition places the Sydney-born, London-trained artist, who spent the majority of his career working in Paris and on the island of Belle-Île, at the centre of French avant-gardism. Remarkably, in such august company, Russell holds his own.
The exhibition includes examples of the artist’s figure studies produced under the direction of Alphonse Legros at the Slade Art School; realist, impressionist, and post-impressionist experiments inspired by his time in the Parisian atelier of Fernand Cormon; landscape paintings of the Belle-Île coastline and seascapes of the rough Atlantic ocean; and watercolours of scenes in France, Switzerland, Portofino, and Sydney.