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RUSSELL, EDWARD JOHN, ship portrait painter, newspaper illustrator, and photographer; b. May 1832 on the Isle of Wight, England; m. first 4 Aug. 1863 Julia Louise LeBrun Marsh in Fredericton, and they had five sons and one daughter; m. secondly 1883, in Boston, Marie Lewis of Saint John, N.B., and they had a son and a daughter who survived to adulthood; d. 1 Sept. 1906 in Boston.
In 1851, at the age of 19, Edward John Russell arrived in Saint John on the barque Faside, carrying a rather crude painting of the vessel that he had produced during the voyage from England. Like thousands of other immigrants to British North America during the mid 19th century, he found a port alive with shipping and commerce as New Brunswick participated in the great age of sail. The numerous ship portraits he was to paint after 1870 document this maritime activity. Although in retrospect the surviving portrait of the Faside might seem to symbolize the commencement of an artistic career, in fact Russell initially pursued other employment.
According to family tradition, Russell was born into reasonably comfortable circumstances on the Isle of Wight and became a boarder at Peckham Collegiate School in Southwark (London). In London he bowed to his father’s wishes and embarked upon a career in business, despite his own preference for art. By 1851 he had become a junior clerk for a firm of glove manufacturers in Cheapside.
In Saint John, Russell clerked for the dry-goods firm of John Boyd* and Thomas Wilder Daniel*. However, about 1857 he relocated in Fredericton, where he laboured as a bookkeeper in the lumber business of John Lothrop Marsh, the father of his future wife. It was in Fredericton that Russell began his artistic career. Between 1857 and 1862 he contributed sketches to the Illustrated London News, including several in 1860 when he covered the Saint John–Fredericton leg of the Prince of Wales’s world tour. In 1861 he completed his most ambitious work to date, a book titled Illustrated sketches of New Brunswick, published by John McMillan of Saint John.
Back in Saint John in 1862, Russell opened a studio on Market Square as an “Artist and Landscape Photographer”; two years later his Imperial Photograph Gallery started up on Germain Street. Russell’s first recorded venture as a publisher was launched from the latter location, a lithographic print of the “Provincial Exhibition Palace. Fredericton, New Brunswick, 1864.”
Russell painted several ship portraits before 1870, but his output increased substantially after that date. Like ship portrait painters elsewhere, he sold his water-colours of merchant vessels and river-boats to individuals who had an intimate connection with the vessels pictured. He also sought income from other sources, and between 1871 and 1875 he submitted over 90 illustrations to the Canadian Illustrated News (Montreal). Despite his involvement in a variety of commercial ventures, he was apparently not successful as a businessman and was often short of money. Released in 1878, his Conservative political magazine Cartoon, a weekly, survived for only four issues.
About three years after the death of his first wife in 1880, Russell moved to Boston, where he remarried and remained for seven years. After his return to Saint John he continued to produce ship portraits, and began to execute water-colours of Saint John Harbour as well. From late 1893 to 1895 he completed more than 100 illustrations for a local newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. He then went back to Massachusetts and lived there until his death.
Surviving examples of his work show that Russell was both a competent photographer and a prolific newspaper illustrator, but today he is remembered for his many water-colour paintings of merchant sailing vessels and river steamboats. These surprisingly accurate depictions serve as an enduring visual record of New Brunswick’s maritime past and of the heyday of its sailing vessels which have long since disappeared.
In addition to his Illustrated sketches of New Brunswick, Russell published “Memorial marine museum and picture gallery for the city and county of Yarmouth: a proposition,” Acadiensis (Saint John, N.B.), 3 (1903): 304–7. A collection of his ship portraits is held in the Dept. of Fine and Decorative Arts of the N.B. Museum.
Relevant newspapers, beyond those mentioned in the text, are the Gleaner (Chatham, N.B.), 11 Sept. 1858, 2 July 1859; the New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser, 6 Nov., 4 Dec. 1857; and the following Saint John papers: the Daily Telegraph and its predecessors, 1864–95; the Morning News, 3 May 1861, 11 Aug. 1862; the New Brunswick Courier, 8 Aug. 1863; and the Sun, 4 Sept. 1906.
Huia G. Ryder’s pamphlet, Edward John Russell: marine artist ([Saint John], 1953), published by the N.B. Museum, reproduces a photograph of Russell. Ryder’s correspondence and research notes on Russell, 1951–53, are now held by Dorothy Dearborn of Hampton, N.B.