John Russell (1745-April 1806) was an English painter renowned for his portrait work in oils and pastels, and as a writer and teacher of painting techniques.
Born in Guildford, Surrey, he trained under the tutelage of Francis Cotes RA, one of the pioneers of English pastel painting, and – like Cotes – became an admirer of the pastel drawings of Rosalba Carriera.
Russell set up his own studio in 1767. Although nominally based in London, Russell travelled extensively around Britain, undertaking portraits. His pastels technique prompted him to write Elements of Painting with Crayons, published in 1772, by which time he had won premiums for his drawings from the Society of Arts in 1759 and 1760 and entered the Royal Academy school of art in 1770, winning its gold medal for figure drawing the same year. He exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1768 and exhibited 330 works at the Academy from 1769 until his death, being elected a full Academician in 1788.
In 1789, Russell was commissioned to paint a portrait of the royal physician Francis Willis. The results obviously pleased the monarch as, in 1790, Russell was appointed Crayon [pastel] Painter to King George III, Queen Charlotte, the Prince of Wales (both of whom Russell also painted) and the Duke of York. With such royal patronage, he developed a large and fashionable clientele.
His portraits were engraved by Collyer, Turner, Heath, Dean, Bartolozzi, Trotter and other prominent engravers.
A man of deep religious beliefs (a devout follower of George Whitefield), Russell was also interested in astronomy (he was a friend of Sir William Herschel) and in mathematics, inventing a scientific apparatus used to exhibit an accurate map of the moon he painted in 1795.
Unfortunately, he was troubled by ill-health for much of his life and in 1803, became almost deaf following a bout of cholera. He died in Hull in 1806 after contracting typhus.
His son William (1780-1870) also became a successful painter.
See George C Williamson, John Russell (London, 1894).