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New Russell Painting Donated To The Town

Published on: 18 Jul, 2019
Updated on: 23 Jul, 2019

By Hugh Coakley

A new painting, a pastel of a little girl, ‘Louisa Halsey’ by local artist and Royal Academician John Russell (1745-1806), has been gifted to the Guildford Borough Council art collection.

A new addition to the Guildford Borough Council art collection. A pastel painting of a little girl, ‘Louisa Halsey’ by John Russell.

The donation by Friends of Guildford House is thought to be valued at around £2,000 and takes the total for the gallery’s Russell collection to 37.

The painting is believed to have remained in the same family, who once lived at Henley Park in Pirbright, from the time of its creation until its recent auction.

Prolific portrait artist, John Russell was born in Guildford in 1745. His father was town mayor five times and he attended the Royal Grammar School.

Russell painted many members of the Royal family, aristocracy, and middle classes of the time, as well as painting local characters and members of his own family.

Curatorial Assistant, Gemma Haigh and Cllr James Steel placing the new John Russell painting in Guildford House Gallery for the ‘People and Places’ exhibition.

Guildford Heritage Service holds what is believed to be the largest collection of Russell portraits anywhere in the world, as well as numerous prints and objects such as Russell’s easel, pastels, and sketches of the town.

The new painting will be on show at the summer exhibition People and Places’ at Guildford House Gallery.

The exhibition will run from 20 July to 22 September and complements artwork with objects from Guildford Borough Council’s museum and gallery collections to tell stories and reveal, often unexpected, connections between the pieces.

Curatorial assistant, Gemma Haigh, who has just been awarded the prestigious Understanding British Portraits Fellowship, will be studying this and other Russell portraits. The award will enable her to develop her professional expertise in portraiture, specifically John Russell portraits.

Gemma Haigh explained the award was highly competitive. She said: “The Understanding British Portraits (UBP) Fellowship is one of just five new fellowships given this year.”

Gemma’s project proposal was liked so much by the UBP panel that hers was one of the two projects given additional funding to allow her to direct a film about the work. This film will be used by Guildford Heritage Services at venues in the future to educate visitors about the Russell portraits.

Gemma said: “I chose to research 19 of John Russell’s portraits of female subjects which are all part of the Guildford Heritage Service collection as I’m hoping to make the borough a centre for excellence in Russell’s portraits. The research will provide nationally significant insight into an under-represented section of 18th-century society which will tell us more about local women during this time.

“Researching the portraits will increase our knowledge of the fashions, families and statuses of the time, adding to the stories we tell by making new links through our collections.”

Lead councillor for leisure, heritage and tourism, Cllr James Steel (Lib Dem, Westborough) said: “We are very grateful to the Friends of Guildford House Gallery for this wonderful addition to our existing Russell collection. Like the enigmatic Lewis Carroll, being linked to such a dynamic Royal Academy portrait artist as Russell is part of our borough’s exciting heritage. Our town is rich in and enriched by its history through artists, architecture and natural landscapes. It’s a huge part of what makes Guildford so vibrant and one of the most sought-after places to live and work in the South East.

“Congratulations to Gemma for being awarded such a significant fellowship. We look forward to her research and through her project, we can understand and learn not only even more about Russell and his work but about 18th-century women and society.”

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