John Russell (1858–1930) spent almost his entire artistic career in Europe, where he painted in a style and technique much closer to French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism than that of his colleagues in Australia. Long excluded from histories of Australian art, a renewed appreciation of his work has recently ‘repatriated’ him, and brought a more international perspective to our understanding of Australian Impressionism. Russell poses the question of what it meant to be an ‘Australian Impressionist’, and raises issues of national identity as they relate to Impressionism in its international context.
Russell met Roberts in London as a student, but unlike Roberts, he remained in Europe, pursuing his studies in Paris and eventually settling in Brittany, on Belle-Île. Through his friendships with many more familiar figures, such as Van Gogh, Monet, Sisley and Matisse, Russell responded to, and actively participated in, various currents of avant-garde painting, distinguishing himself as a daring colourist. Russell and Roberts kept in touch, and Russell sought to keep Roberts abreast of the latest developments in European painting. His letters appear to have had little impact ‘back home’.