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.
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.
… “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”.
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.
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.
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.
The 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 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.
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
Art Gallery of NSW
On Show until November 11, 2018
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.