John Russell was born in Guildford; the son of a book and printseller. He studied at Guildford Grammar School before being apprenticed to Francis Cotes. He moved to London in 1768 and later married Hannah Faden, daughter of a printseller. The couple had twelve children. In the 1770s, Russell turned from painting portraits in oil to using pastel on paper. He made his own crayons and described the process in his book ‘Elements of Painting with Crayons’ (1772). He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1769 and was later elected a Royal Academician. In 1789 he became painter to King George III and the Prince of Wales. He was also an astronomer and produced several large images of the surface of the moon. He died of typhus during a trip to Hull.
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