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Details & Cataloguing

The Ken and Rona Eastaugh Collection

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Melbourne

John Peter Russell
1858-1930
AUSTRALIAN
PÊCHEUR SUR FALAISE
Signed JOHN RUSSELL and dated indistinctly (lower right); bears title on gallery label on reverse
Oil on canvas
61 by 78cm
Painted circa 1900-1904
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Provenance

The artist, by descent to his daughter (Mme. Jouve)
Louis Jouve (inscribed on label on reverse); thence by descent to his daughter
Madame Gueye
Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne
Private collection, Melbourne
Fine Australian, Aboriginal and International Paintings, Sotheby's, Melbourne, 22 - 23 November 1999, lot 7
Purchased from the above

Exhibited

John Peter Russell, Australian Impressionist, Wildenstein, London, July - August 1965, cat. 24 (lent by M. Louis Jouve) (bears gallery label on reverse)
Autumn Exhibition 1974: Recent Acquisitons, Joseph Brown Gallery, Melbourne, 18 March - 1 April 1974, cat. 23 (illus.)

Literature

'The Art of John Peter Russell', Australian Women's Weekly, 3 May 1967, p. 31 (illus.)
Ann Galbally, The Art of John Peter Russell, Melbourne: Sun Books, 1977, cat. 169, fig. 33 (illus.)

Catalogue Note

The 'fisherman on the cliff' described in the title of this large and important Belle-Ile canvas is presumably Hippolyte Guillaumin, a Breton fisherman who figures in a number of paintings by both Russell and Claude Monet.

John Russell first met Monet in September 1886 when both artists were visiting Belle-Ile, a remote island off the coast of Brittany.  Monet - 'the prince of Impressionists', as Russell put it - assumed that the young Australian was American; but he found Russell 'trés aimable' and dined with him in preference to the 'abominable' meals at his inn.  The two worked side by side on occasion on the rocky Atlantic shore and it seems likely that seeing Monet's Belle-Ile series, exhibited in Paris the following year, was a factor in Russell's decision to settle on the island in 1888.  He would remain there for twenty years - the happiest, both personally and professionally, of his life.

It is said that Russell first introduced Guillaumin - 'le Pére Poly' - to Monet, who employed the wiry old character as his porter.1  He also worked for Russell as a gardener.  Monet's head-and-shoulders portrait Le Pére Poly, pecheur de Belle-Ile is now in the Musée Marmottan, Paris; while Russell's Mon ami Polite, circa 1900 is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales.  In the words of Ann Galbally, 'for Russell, Poly became the prototype of the fisherman, the symbol of all fishermen and their intimate relationships with their surroundings.'2

Here, in Pecheur sur falaise, the figure stands on clifftops which were carpeted with heather and gorse in spring.  (The Russells generally spent eight months of the year at their 'Château Anglais' on Belle-Ile.)  Despite the wind it is sunny and the colours are warm and bright, applied in broad impressionist brushstrokes.  Russell once wrote to Tom Roberts about mixing his own pigments and experimenting with colour, 'Simple colour but strong keep pure as long as possible.'  Indeed he was the only Australian artist to have first-hand contact with any of the original French impressionists.  Unfortunately Russell's contemporary reputation suffered because of his modesty and reluctance to sell his paintings (he had independent means and therefore had no need to do so).  But his friend Rodin was undoubtedly prophetic when he wrote, 'Your works will live, I am certain.  One day you will be placed on the same level with our friends Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh.'3

1.  E. Salter, The Lost Impressionist: a biography of John Peter Russell, London: Angus & Robertson, 1976, p. 90
2.  Ann Galbally, The Art of John Peter Russell, Melbourne: Sun Books, 1977, p. 58
3.  Quoted in Australian Women's Weekly, 3 May 1967, p. 30

The Ken and Rona Eastaugh Collection

|
Melbourne