Important Australian + International Fine Art
10 April 2019


(‎1858 – ‎1930‎)‎

oil on canvas‎

63‎.‎5‎ x ‎81‎.‎0 ‎cm‎

signed, dated and inscribed lower left: TO – FRIEND – LTC – J.P. RUSSELL – ’97

$300‎,‎000 ‎– ‎500‎,‎000‎
Sold for $390,400 (inc. BP) in Auction 57 - 10 April 2019, Sydney

Lionel T. Crawshaw, gift from the artist
Thence by descent
Harold Crawshaw, Estoril, Portugal
Artarmon Galleries, New South Wales (label attached verso)
Private collection, Melbourne
Thence by descent
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

From a three-month visit in 1886 with Marianna to purchasing land and building a large house there the following year, John Russell’s response to the wild beauty of Belle-Île was passionate. The pounding seas and rugged, rocky coastlines of this island off the coast of Brittany captured his imagination resulting in Rocher au Chien, Clos Marion, Belle-Île, 1897 and many other masterly paintings of both storm and calm. It was a passion shared with others. Claude Monet (1840 – 1926), shortly after meeting Russell on Belle-Île, wrote to Gustave Caillebotte: ‘I am in a superbly wild country, a heap of terrible rocks and an improbable sea of colours’.1 Monet canvases of Belle-Île numbered nearly forty. Most were of the sea and coast, a memorable example being Storm off the Coast of Belle-Île, 1886 in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris. Russell’s own series of these lively seas and majestic rocks, mostly undated, peak in the late nineties through the turn of the century, highlighted in the visually exciting Rough Sea, Belle-Île, 1900 (Joseph Brown Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne). In Russell’s watercolours, of which he was a master, the aqueous feel is even greater as he pictures seas rough, as in Storm, Belle-Île, 1905, or peaceful, as in Belle-Île, 1905. Both are in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Added to this is the brilliance of his palette, highlighted in an explosion of primary colours in Red Sail, Port Goulphar, c.1900, (Musée d’Orsay), dominant red sails, yellow gorse and sparkling blue sea enveloped in summer light. Russell’s works of Belle-Île and elsewhere reflect the typical interests of the Impressionist – especially the seasons and other changing moods of nature – embracing painting en plein air to capture the transient effects of light and movement.


Rocks at Port-Coton, the Lion Rock,
Belle-Île, 1886
oil on canvas
65.0 x 81.0 cm
collection of The Fitzwilliam Museum,
University of Cambridge

Our painting, Rocher au Chien, Clos Marion, Belle-Île is possibly the largest of the series involving this particular engagement of rocks and seas. Ann Galbally illustrates another in her earlier book on Russell.2 A third, Auchien Rocks, Clos Marion, Belle- Île, belongs to the Nock Art Foundation, Hong Kong. Light modifies colour as morning changes to twilight then darker skies. Series paintings were in vogue. The 1890s is also the time of Monet’s paintings of poplars, haystacks and Rouen Cathedral. And in 1903-05 Claude Debussy composed his great impressionistic orchestral work La Mer.3 In our group of paintings, Russell’s admiration of the music of Richard Wagner resounds in the clash of titanic forces, turbulent seas and immovable rocks. An absence of human presence adds to the mood of natural grandeur, powerful, windswept forces conjured up through the virtuosity and spontaneity of his brushstrokes. To see the sound of wind and feel the crash of stormy seas, salt laden in your face, speaks of Symbolism and tells of yachtsman Russell’s love of the sea.

A painting given by one artist to another is always special, as is the case with this work. Here it speaks of the close friendship between the British-born artist, Lionel Townsend Crawshaw (1864 – 1949), the Russells and their families. Crawshaw arrived on Belle-Île in the mid 1890s with an introduction to Russell. Contracting typhoid, a closeness developed through the nursing he received from the Russells. The gift is dated 1897. Russell’s son Lionel Oliver Brian was born the day after Christmas 1898. Later, Russell also made further gifts to Crawshaw.

1. Claude Monet letter to Gustave Caillebotte, Belle-Île, 11 October 1886, quoted in Tunnicliffe, W. (ed), John Russell: Australia’s French Impressionist, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2018, p. 31
2. Galbally, A., The Art of John Peter Russell, Sun Books, Melbourne, 1977, p. 104, cat. 110, pl. xxvii, Rocher au Chien, Clos Marion, Belle-Île, oil on canvas, 50.1 x 60.5 cm
3. Tunnicliffe, op. cit., p. 87