Once he was known as ‘Australia’s lost impressionist’ and referred to as John Peter Russell. Now at the Art Gallery of NSW he is named simply John Russell and is described correctly as ‘Australia’s French Impressionist’. The Gallery has mounted the first survey of his work in 40 years; a major exhibition bringing together 120 works from private and public collections including the Van Gogh Museum, the Musée d’Orsay and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
John Peter was born at Darlinghurst in 1858, the son of John Russell, a successful industrialist. His father’s sudden death in 1879 left Russell with considerable means. He sailed for London, enrolling in the Slade School, where he was introduced to Fernand Cormon with whom he then studied in Paris. This was his entrée to the Parisian art world. In 1888 he married Rodin’s beautiful Italian model Marianna Antoinetta Mattiocco; they had four sons and a daughter.
He settled at Belle Ile, Britanny where they entertained artist friends including van Gogh, Rodin, Matisse and Monet, who most influenced his painting. Russell’s output was considerable although he never sought commercial success. Marianna died in 1908; after the war he settled back in Watson’s Bay, painting until his death in 1930. Obscurity followed despite the efforts of his cousin Thea Proctor. This exhibition (until 11 November) is significant historically; more importantly it has many beautiful paintings.
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