Any frequent travellers will tell you that the friendships you develop on the road can be some of the most life altering. So imagine, as a budding painter venturing out into the world, you encountered and befriended some of the artists who were to become the most famous of their generation.
That's the exact scenario Australian painter John Russell found himself in while living and studying in London and Paris in the 1880s and 90s. As well as developing a close friendship with Vincent van Gogh, Russell also taught Henri Matisse colour theory, dined with Claude Monet and — amazingly — was even temporarily stranded at sea with Auguste Rodin. It's quite the crew — and one in which Russell found his place as a French Impressionist.
Now, the first major survey of Russell's work in 40 years is at the Art Gallery of NSW. Open now and on view until Sunday, November 11, John Russell: Australia's French Impressionist showcases more than 100 of the 'lost' impressionist's paintings, drawings and watercolours drawn from major international and Australian art institutions and private collections.
Fittingly, these are accompanied by works of his contemporaries: Claude Monet, Auguste Rodin, Henri Matisse and Vincent van Gogh. It was within this creative circle that exhibition curator Wayne Tunnicliffe says Russell "found his artistic voice".
Russell was one of our first truly international artists, but — compared to his contemporaries — largely flew under the art radar. So don't worry if you hadn't yet heard of him. This exhibition offers Sydneysiders an opportunity to engage directly with his time spent abroad, and his subsequent evolution as an artist, and they follow Russell's journey through impressionism and experimentation with pure colour, right through to his later vibrant watercolours.
Highlights include Russell's 1886 portrait of Vincent van Gogh, as well as six of his blossom paintings from 1887, which are said to have inspired the famous Dutch painter. To accompany the exhibition, AGNSW will also host a number of guided tours and talks to further delve into Russell's works and the themes explored in them.
John Russell: Australia's French Impressionist will be held at the AGNSW from July 21 to November 11, 2018. Tickets are $20 per person ($16 for members) and can be purchased via the AGNSW website.
We're also giving away ten double passes to the exhibition. To enter, see details below.
Images: John Russell, Mrs Russell Among the Flowers in the Garden of Goulphar, Belle-Île, 1907; John Russell, Rough Sea, Morestil, c1900; John Russell, The Garden, Longpré-les-Corps-Saints, 1887.