He dined with Claude Monet. He painted with (and painted) Vincent van Gogh. He went to concerts with Auguste Rodin. He explained impressionist colour theory to Matisse. Yet it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th-century that the work of Australian painter John Russell was rediscovered – and even now he’s not a household name in the way that many of his friends and colleagues are.
This is something the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ Head Curator of Australian Art Wayne Tunnicliffe is hoping to change with a new exhibition titled John Russell: Australia’s French Impressionist, the first survey of the Russell’s work in 40 years, which will explore his unique place amongst the most influential artists in France. “These were artists who were in and out of each other’s studios, seeing each others’ practice, encouraging each other,” Tunnicliffe says. “I don’t think any other Australian artist had that experience at that time.”
Russell was born in Darlinghurst in 1858, went to school outside Goulburn, NSW, and trained as an engineer like his father. “But as soon as his father died and he had money, he went straight to art school,” Tunnicliffe says.