Five studies of Vincent van Gogh
(circa 1886-circa 1888)
16 Jun 1858 - 30 Apr 1930
Sydney-born John Russell was the only Australian artist to have been closely associated with some of the most original and influential artists in France at the end of the nineteenth century, namely Auguste Rodin, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Henri Matisse. Russell painted van Gogh in 1886, shortly after meeting him at Fernand Cormon's studio school in Paris, which they both attended. The portrait passed from van Gogh to his family and is now in the collection of the Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. This sheet of studies appears to be from a year or so later however, possibly 1888, since van Gogh appears with a shaved head, or very closely cropped hair, as he painted himself in 1888. The year 1888 was significant for both artists – van Gogh left Paris for Arles in February and Russell married one of Rodin's young models, Marianna Mattiocco and moved into a newly built house to his own design, on Belle-Île off the coast of Brittany. Though they didn't see each other again, they did write (refer to 'The complete letters of Vincent van Gogh', Thames and Hudson, London, 1958).
The paper used in this sheet of drawings has the same watermark as that for at least two of Vincent van Gogh's drawings, life studies of standing male nudes from 1885-86, except Russell's is a full sheet and van Gogh's drawings are on half sheets (refer to J-B de la Faille, 'The works of Vincent van Gogh', Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1970, pg. 476, F1364-1, F1364-2). Robin and Yvonne Darwin's ownership of the sheet of drawings is interesting because it was unknown to scholars of both van Gogh's work and Russell's until relatively recently. Robin Darwin (1910-74) was Charles Darwin's great grandson and an artist in his own right. The drawing came to light when the previous owner discovered it among his mother's belongings after she died in 1999. It had been left to her by Yvonne Darwin, who died in 1985.
excerpt from Hendrik Kolenberg, Anne Ryan and Patricia James, '19th century Australian watercolours, drawings & pastels in the Gallery's collection', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2005
Five head studies of Vincent van Gogh
Place where the work was made
(circa 1886-circa 1888)
fine conté or carbon pencil on laid paper
47.0 x 62.0 cm sheet
Signature & date
Signed beneath each individual head study, pencil "JR/ FEC". Not dated.
Purchased with funds provided by the Australian Prints, Drawings and Watercolours Benefactors Fund 2003
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 4 exhibitions
19th century Australian watercolours, drawings & pastels, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 Apr 2005–24 Jul 2005
Impressions: painting light and life, National Portrait Gallery [Parliamentary Zone], Canberra, 25 Nov 2011–04 Mar 2012
Australian impressionists in France, Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne, 15 Jun 2013–06 Oct 2013
John Peter Russell, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 10 Mar 2018–11 Jun 2018
Referenced in 6 publications
Sarah Engledow, Impressions: painting light & life, Canberra, 2011, 12, 32-33 (colour illus.). cat.no. 8
Ann Galbally, A remarkable friendship : Vincent van Gogh and John Peter Russell, Melbourne, 2008, 111-112, 218 (colour illus.). Plate 18; titled 'Five Head Studies of Vincent van Gogh'; dated '(1886)'
Hendrik Kolenberg, Look, 'Australian images from the past: whether rarely seen or familiar, these works move and delight us', pg. 24-27, Sydney, Apr 2005, 27.
Hendrik Kolenberg, 19th century Australian watercolours, drawing and pastels from the Gallery's collection, 'Introduction', pg. 6-16, Sydney, 2005, 12, 13 (colour illus., detail), 82, 83 (colour illus.).
Hendrik Kolenberg, Look, 'Drawn from life: an Australian link with Vincent Van Gogh', pg. 14-15, Sydney, Feb 2004, 14, 15 (colour illus.).
Elena Taylor, Australian impressionists in France, 'John Russell and friends: Roberts, Monet, van Gogh, Matisse, Rodin', pg. 52-70, Melbourne, 2013, 56 (colour illus.), 169, 174, 176.