John Russell's scrapbook - part one: sketches and drawings
With the help of scholar and researcher, Dr Timothy Underhill, our Curatorial Assistant, Gemma Haigh, has been discovering more about a scrapbook in our collection that contains drawings by Guildford artist, John Russell RA. Part one of this blog post explores Russell's drawings and sketches from the scrapbook.
From an early age, Russell's talent for drawing became obvious. As a teenager, he was apprenticed to the pastel-artist, Francis Cotes, who had a studio in London. Russell soon mastered the art of pastel portraiture and in 1768, set up his own premises near Cavendish Square. Russell's enormous popularity as a portrait artist eventually led to him becoming a member of the Royal Academy in 1788, and to his appointment in 1790 as 'Crayon Painter to the King' (crayon meaning pastel in the eighteenth century).
The Russell scrapbook in Guildford Heritage's collection is the latest source linked to Russell that we have explored in more detail. John Russell is known to have kept records throughout his life and his personal diaries are now at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Russell's tendency to hold onto thoughts, feelings, memories and drawings means that we can learn more about him as an artist and a person. The scrapbook has been silently waiting to be rediscovered in our stores for many years. Is it possible that we never understood its true significance?
The scrapbook also contains some sketches of scenes from Guildford, which have been labelled with shorthand. Dr Timothy Underhill, who has studied the shorthand used in Russell's diary, believes that Russell labelled these sketches to remind him of what he was seeing. Some notes are: 'yellow tiles', 'white', 'tiles red lead'. It is possible that Russell made these notes so that he could reproduce the images and add colour. Occasionally, the places have been labelled, though the names are very difficult to make out.
However, there is so much more to this book than meets the eye. Not only is it filled with Russell's original artworks and memories of Guildford, the supporting book is itself an enigma. In the second part of this month's blog, we will explore the secrets of the scrapbook and reveal the discoveries we have made.
Part one of this blog post was written by Gemma Haigh, Curatorial Assistant.
See part two of Gemma's blog post: John Russell's scrapbook: Secrets and discoveries.