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Australian art

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Les Aiguilles, Belle Ile



John Russell


16 Jun 1858 - 22 Apr 1930


John Peter Russell was an expatriate most of his working life. A contemporary of Tom Roberts, he and Roberts travelled through Spain together in the early 1880s. Russell remained in Europe and settled at Belle Ile on the coast of Brittany. His friendship with van Gogh is now part of Australian art legend (his portrait of van Gogh is in the Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh in Amsterdam). He was an early influence on Matisse at Belle Ile, where Russell painted with Monet - this aspect of his work will feature in the Gallery's forthcoming Belle Ile exhibition. Several of Russell's pencil and watercolour studies also bring Paul Signac's work to mind (Signac, a follower of Seurat, had a strong theoretical basis to his work and influenced a number of painters in the 1890s and into the early twentieth-century). Sharing in their concerns regarding the development of a fresh approach to painting, Russell however remained a painter with strong Sydney affiliations and temperament - vigorous, colourful and outwardly optimistic.

There are a number of important published references to Russell's work, principal amongst which are Elizabeth Salter's book 'The Lost Impressionist', a biography of the Australian Painter John Peter Russell (London, 1976) and Anne Galbally's monograph and exhibition catalogue 'The Art of John Peter Russell' (Melbourne, 1977). The Melbourne dealer Joseph Brown staged a major exhibition of Russell's work in 1977 which greatly aided the appreciation and collecting of Russell's work in Australia and most recently there has been growing interest in Russell's work in France, which is reflected in two exhibitions at the Musée des Jacobins at Morlaix - 'Les peintres de Belle-Ile-en-mer, sur les pas de Monet' in 1994 and 'John Peter Russell, un impressionniste australien' in 1997. The first volume of a two part study of Matisse by Frances Spurling, published in 1998, also underlines the critical part that Russell played in Matisse's early development at Belle Ile in the 1880s.

The intense and seductively coloured small study 'Les Aiguilles, Belle Ile' 1910, sums up Russell's Belle Ile concerns in spontaneous miniature.

Australian Art Department 2000




Media category


Materials used

pencil, watercolour, gouache, scraping out on off-white wove paper


12.8 x 17.9 cm (sheet)

Signature & date

Signed and dated u.l., pencil "JR/ 10.".


Jean Cameron Gordon Bequest Fund in memory of her mother Mary Gordon 2000


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

John Russell

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 1 publication


Ursula Prunster (Curator), Belle-Île: Monet, Russell & Matisse in Brittany, Sydney, 2001, 107 (colour illus.). 39