MGM 2006 - Royal Portraitist John Russell Celebrated At Guildford House Gallery

By Katie Allen | 09 May 2006
a portrait of a Georgian period lady in white dress and luxuriant hair

John Russell, Portrait of a Lady. Courtesy Guildford House Gallery

Guildford House Gallery has opened an exhibition of the work of John Russell to commemorate the bicentenary of his death, coinciding with the beginning of Museums and Galleries Month (29 April - 4 June 2006).

Over 30 pastel and oil paintings will be on display until 22 July 2006. These include a showcase of the works in Guildford’s Borough Collection, together with loaned items from local collections, as well as the portraits of Mr and Mrs Wilson recently acquired from Sotheby's with donations from the Friends of Guildford House.

a portrait of two women in native North American Indian costume

John Russell, Micoc and Tootac. Courtesy Guildford House Gallery

John Russell R.A. (1745-1806) is Guildford’s most famous artist. An accomplished portraitist, he attended the Royal Academy and rose to fame as a pioneer of pastel portraiture during its infancy.

He produced his own recipe for the pastel colours that remain undimmed after 200 years of exposure to light. During his lifetime he exhibited over 330 works at the Royal Academy, eventually becoming portrait painter to King George III and the Prince of Wales (later George IV).

The exhibition traces his extraordinary career from early childhood sketches via his oil painting of the Eskimo Indians Micoc and Tootac, which was displayed at the first Royal Academy exhibition in 1768, to the portraits of the aristocracy and upper middle classes which made his name.

a painted portrait of an older woman wearing a white silk bonnet

John Russell, Mrs Jeremy Dixon of York. Courtesy Guildford House Gallery

One of the most striking themes to emerge from these portraits is the intricate portrayal of his subjects’ lavish costumes and accessories. As an extra visual illustration of this aspect of Russell's work, the Gallery will be displaying original 18th and early 19th century dresses - on loan from the Marion May Collection, Guildford Museum and the Mayor of Guildford.

These include a sack-back dress from c.1760 made from costly golden yellow silk damask and of a similar style to the designs John Russell's mother may have worn to functions. Also on display is a muslin morning dress from c.1820, decorated with layers of hand-embroidered whitework.

Amongst a variety of guided walks, workshops and lectures, Marion May will be on hand to give a talk on Georgian fashion in The Brew House on June 8.

a photograph of a female model wearing a full length gown in gold and a bonnet

The exhibition also features some fine examples of eighteenth century costume. Courtesy Guildford House Gallery

On July 12, Hilary Underwood will be giving a talk on Fashion and Femininity: John Russell and the 18th century female image.

Completing the Gallery’s immersion in the Georgian period are authentic floral arrangements by Merrow Floral Club. Affiliated to the Surrey Area NADFAS (National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies), the Club is celebrating its 35th Anniversary in 2006.

Members researched and recreated original 17th and 18th century floral arrangements, which will be on display in every room in the house for the Georgian Music Evening on June 16. In the meantime, the pedestal arrangement in the hall will remain throughout the exhibition.

an oval portrait of a male arab with a moustache and turban

Mohammet Summy. Courtesy Guildford House Gallery

The John Russell Exhibition is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am-4.45pm. Admission is free. For full details of talks and events see the entry below or visit

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