Russell was England's leading pastellist in the later eighteenth century. He studied under Francis Cotes and from 1769 to 1806 exhibited annually at the Royal Academy, of which he was a member. This portrait and a companion piece showing the sitter's wife were executed to celebrate the couple's fortieth anniversary.
The most prolific of British pastellists, John Russell was born in Guildford, Surrey, son of a book- and print-seller. He won premiums at the London Society of Arts in 1759 and 1760, before serving an apprenticeship with Francis Cotes (1726–1770), the leading pastellist of the day. Russell studied with Cotes until 1767, joined the Royal Academy schools in 1770, and was made an associate there in 1772. Although Russell exhibited annually at the Academy from 1769, showing a total of 332 pastels over the course of his career, he did not become a full member until 1788. This did not stop him publishing Elements of Painting with Crayons, an important instructional text on pastel painting, in 1772 or soliciting the highest patronage: he was appointed "crayon painter" to the Prince of Wales, later George IV (1762–1830), in 1785 and to King George III (1738–1820) in 1790.
According to signed labels found on their reverses, Russell painted this pair of portraits in 1791 to commemorate the fortieth wedding anniversary of William and Sarah Man Godschall. William Man became the owner of the manor of Weston House near Albury in Surrey through his wife, whose family name he added to his own in 1752. Born Sarah Godschall (1730–1795), she is shown in the pendant portrait (61.182.2). With his bright blue eyes and slightly ruddy complexion, William looks younger than his seventy-one years. He wears a blue coat and a freshly powdered wig, the textures of which allow Russell to show off his mastery of the medium, as well as his technique of "sweetening" or blending different shades of pastel together.
[Francesca Whitlum-Cooper 2010]
Inscription: Signed and dated (right center): J Russell RA. pinxt. / 1791
Mr. and Mrs. William Man Godschall, Weston House, Albury, near Guildford, Surrey (1791–her d. 1795); William Man Godschall, Weston House (1795–d. 1802); Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Man Godschall, Weston House (1802–his d. 1821); Mrs. Samuel Man Godschall, Weston House (1821–d. 1823; bequeathed to Palmerston); Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, Broadlands, Romsey, Hampshire (1823–d. 1865); his stepson, William Francis Cowper, later Baron Mount Temple, Broadlands (1865–d. 1888); his nephew, Hon. Evelyn Melbourne Ashley, Broadlands (1888–d. 1908); his son, Wilfrid William Ashley, later Baron Mount Temple, Broadlands (1908–d. 1939; cat., 1939); his daughter, Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Broadlands (1939–d. 1960; sale, Christie's, London, March 15, 1960, no. 83 [this portrait and its pendant], withdrawn and sold privately for $600 to Wiesenberger); Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wiesenberger, New York (1960–61)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe," May 17–August 14, 2011, no. 41.
George C. Williamson. John Russell, R.A. London, 1894, pp. 15, 135, dates the pastels 1791, noting that they belong to the Honourable Evelyn Ashley of Broadlands, Romsey, and that the sitters were aunt and uncle to the late Lord Palmerston; lists another portrait believed to represent W. Mann [sic] Godschall in a purple velvet coat and embroidered waistcoat, in the collection of W. G. Cole of North Street, Guildford.
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 146–48, no. 66, ill. (color).
Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelley. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Spring 2011), p. 52, no. 41, ill. (color).
A large paper label, perhaps contemporary and inscribed in black ink, was removed from the backing and is in the archives: WILLIAM MAN GODSCHALL / Æt. Suæ 71 / and 40th; of his Marriage / with SARAH his now Wife / drawn by J. Russell / Anno 1791.