Australia’s Lost Impressionist: John Russell: History Reborn

John Russell A
John Russell 'Fisherman in blue' 1904/06 oil on canvas 81 x 81 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, held by the Musée de Morlaix, bequest of Mme Jouve 1948

John Russell ‘Fisherman in blue’ 1904/06 oil on canvas 81 x 81 cm, Musée d’Orsay, Paris, held by the Musée de Morlaix, bequest of Mme Jouve 1948

Australia’s Lost Impressionist: John Russell is the subject of new documentary by Director Catherine Hunter.* 

Narrated by actor Hugo Weaving, with music by composer David Bridie, the compelling storyline will light up and captivate viewers when screened on ABC TV, Tuesday, October 30 at 9.30pm and after that, on iVIEW.

It is all about giving credence to one of the great Australian artists most Australians have never heard of, as it explores his legacy on 20th-century art through his paintings and his friendships.

Sarah Turnbull ASarah Turnbull, author of Almost French, is writing a book about John Russell … and says of the documentary…

… “His story has everything – the fabulous handsome hero, the love affair with the beautiful woman Marianna, there are exotic places, Paris and Belle-Ile, and tragedy”.

John Russell: 'Untitled (Self-portrait in a red fez)' 1883, watercolour on paper, 28 x 18 cm (sight), Private collection, Mudgee, NSW, Photo: AGNSW, Jenni Carter

John Russell: ‘Untitled (Self-portrait in a red fez)’ 1883, watercolour on paper, 28 x 18 cm (sight), Private collection, Mudgee, NSW, Photo: AGNSW, Jenni Carter

Artist, John Peter Russell (1858-1930), was considered locally at home in his day as being handsome, independently wealthy through an inheritance, as well as decidedly debonair.

He joined the ranks of those both local and from afar, who travelled overseas to steep themselves not only in the artistic atmosphere of Europe and England, but also in their traditions.

He was seeking an adventure through art, only to discover so much more.

John Russell became one of the great impressionist painters of his time. Enrolling at the Slade School of Fine Art in London first, he spent four years studying before leaving for Paris where he spent seven years.

Then he broke with routine, travelling to Spain and Sicily with lifelong friends painter Tom Roberts and Bohemian Melbourne politician and humanitarian, Dr William Maloney.

Overlooking the Boulevard Haussman at Paris by Gustave Caillebotte 1880, sold Christie's for 14.3 Million US$ 2000

Overlooking the Boulevard Haussman at Paris by Gustave Caillebotte 1880, sold Christie’s for 14.3 Million US$ 2000

Returning to Paris he was eager to once again experience the newest cosmopolitan delights of the city he loved.

Paris saw itself as one of the most ‘romantic’ cities in the world during the second half of the nineteenth century. It is the place where artists were thinking way beyond formal boundaries and rules of formal art academies. Admired and winning their trust, John Russell travelled in a rarified art circle, becoming friends with some of France’s most famous and formidable French artists of his time, including painters Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet and sculptor Auguste Rodin.

John Russell is also known to have taught colour theory and considerations to France’s acclaimed painter Henri Matisse.

Detail: John Russell, Rough Sea, Morestil c1900, courtesy Art Gallery of NSW

Detail: John Russell, Rough Sea, Morestil c1900, courtesy Art Gallery of NSW

Paintings during his time did not really represent, or even strive to represent, the world as it appeared, as their artists provided an impression of the beauty that surrounds us. Viewers of works by John Russell or any of his peers, were left to plumb the depths of their own soul to arrive at an interpretation of the image that confronted them.

Thrilled with the charm of the beguiling Belle-Ille in Brittany, where he moved to live for some twenty years, John Russell immersed himself completely in its ambiance, as he responded to both the light and form of the French countryside and coastline.

John Russell AThe morning sunlight on the fields or the reflection of late afternoon storm clouds was rendered with fresh quick brushstrokes, which caught the most delicate mobility of movement in the moment, dazzling always with its vibration of colour and vitality.

Light shimmered, the wind trembled in the trees, water rippled and flowers waved gently in a light breeze. Views were often seen through the misty haze, which gently and lovingly caressed the landscape during the four seasons.

John  Russell: Vincent van Gogh 1886, oil on canvas, 60.1 x 45.6 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (State of the Netherlands), Photo: Maurice Tromp

John Russell: Vincent van Gogh 1886, oil on canvas, 60.1 x 45.6 cm, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (State of the Netherlands), Photo: Maurice Tromp

John Russell became a fine seascapist, a landscapist and a painter of la vie intime—studies of family life. His portrait study of Vincent Van Gogh, now in the Rijksmuseum at Amsterdam is considered to be very fine.

Impressionism, which on the whole lasted some forty years according to scholars, was all about capturing the moment; in glorious rich sensuous colour or en grisaille.

Its artists helped imagine the future of art, as those caught up in its atmosphere highlighted the poetic rhythms of nature. They became very influential on our surroundings and, on our imagination from that day to this.

Currently on show, the Art Gallery of NSW’s retrospective of some 120 paintings, drawings and watercolours by John Russell, will run until November 11, 2018.

John Russell: 'The garden, Longpré-les Corps-Saints' 1887, oil on canvas, 73 x 120 cm, Private collection, Melbourne Photo: AGNSW, Jenni Carter

John Russell: ‘The garden, Longpré-les Corps-Saints’ 1887, oil on canvas, 73 x 120 cm, Private collection, Melbourne Photo: AGNSW, Jenni Carter

This all-new documentary will only but add to the rich tapestry of information emerging, about the warm hearted gentleman artist John Russell and his journey and experience of a life in art.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018

John Peter Russell (1858-1930)
Australia’s Lost Impressionist
Documentary Preview

Art Gallery of NSW
Retrospective

On Show until November 11, 2018

BUY TICKETS

The exhibition presents the breadth of Russell’s art from his studies in London and Paris, through impressionism and experimentation with pure colour, to his later fauve-like luminous watercolours. It features significant works that were only rediscovered recently and are exhibited publicly for the first time.

* DIRECTOR CATHERINE HUNTER – BIOG DETAILS:
Catherine Hunter has covered the visual arts on Australian television since 1985. She was the Arts producer on the Nine Network’s Sunday program from 1985 to 2006. Since then, she has worked as a freelance director and producer. Her most recent productions include: Glenn Murcutt – Spirit of Place (2016); Trent Parke – The Black Rose (2015); Jeffrey Smart: Master of Stillness (2012); A Law Unto Himself (2012); Jenny Sages: Paths to Portraiture (2012); Inland Heart: The Photography of Jeff Carter (2012); Margaret OlleyA Life in Paint (2012) and Sidney Nolan – Mask and Memory (2009).?  In 2017, Catherine was a finalist in the Walkley Documentary award with Glenn Murcutt - Spirit of Place, which also won the People’s Choice award at Archiflix Sydney and Melbourne. The Murcutt documentary was selected for the 2017 Chicago International Film Festival, the 2018 Palm Springs Architecture and Design Arts Film Festival and opened the 2017 New York Architecture and Design Film Festival. In 2018 it is also screening at festivals in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Athens, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Seattle and New Orleans.

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