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John Russell, 1745–1806, British

John Collins of Devizes

Additional Title(s):

John Collins of Devizes (fl.1771-1799)

Pastel on medium, cream, slightly textured wove paper mounted on canvas
Sheet: 30 x 25 1/4 inches (76.2 x 64.1 cm) and Frame: 35 x 30 x 3 3/4 inches (88.9 x 76.2 x 9.5 cm)

Inscribed in artist's hand in red crayon bottom right: "J. Russel RA | pinxt 1799."

Signed in artist's hand in red crayon bottom right: "J. Russel RA | pinxt 1799."

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Drawings & Watercolors
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
merchant | old | portrait
Associated Places:
Devizes | England | United Kingdom | Wiltshire
On view

The successful and prolific portraitist John Russell was best known for his work in pastels (often referred to as "crayons"). Apprenticed to the portrait painted Francis Cotes, Russell set up his own practice in 1767 and was appointed Crayon Painter to King George III and to George, Prince of Wales, in 1788. Russell evolved a distinctive and effective technique, which he elucidated in his popular manual, Elements of Painting with Crayons (1772). After tracing the sitter's outline in chalk on blue paper and laying in the colors, Russell smudged the outlines using his fingers and crayon; the resulting blurred effect and velvety textures endowed his portraits with remarkable vitality and luminosity. This portrait, which is in almost perfect condition, is a very fine example of his work and demonstrates aptly Cotes's statement that "crayon pictures, when finely painted, are superlatively beautiful, and decorative in a very high degree in apartments that are not too large; for, having their surface dry, they partake in appearance of the effect of Fresco, and by candle light are luminous and beautiful beyond all other pictures." Russell frequently incorporated animals into his pastels, but the inclusion of a ram into his portrait of the Wiltshire wool merchant John Collins (fl 1771-99) is particularly noted: "Let Embellishments of the Picture, and introduction of Birds, animals, &c. be regulated by the rules of propriety and consistency.") Described by the local historian James Waylen as "an antiquary in mind, manners and dress," Collins bequeathed his library to the Baptist Chapel at Broughton, Hampshire; the Chapel subsequently acquired this portrait. The circumstances of its production are unknown, but the pastel was still in Russell's studio at his death and may have been a rejected commission, by no means an unusual occurrence for a professional portraitist of the period. Russell was also an amateur astronomer, and one of his studies of the moon is included in this catalogue (cat. 57).

Katharine Baetjer, Pastel portraits, images of 18th-century Europe , The Metropolitan Museum Bulletin, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Spring 2011, pp. 52-54, no. 43, V 2326 (YCBA)

Neil Jeffares, Pastel Portraits, New York , Burlington Magazine, CLIII, July 2011, p. 500, N1 B87 + OVERSIZE (YCBA)

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