John Russell was admitted to the Royal Academy in March 1770, at the same time as Daniel Gardner.
The nascent Academy Schools were still establishing their teaching structures, but central to the syllabus were the twin components of drawing after the antique and from life models. By 1772 Russell had already been awarded a silver medal and progressed to the Life Academy, where he produced this remarkable pastel study of George White. White was the most famous model employed by the Royal Academy and prominent artists’ model in the second half of the eighteenth century. A paviour – or street mender – by profession White had been discovered by Joshua Reynolds, who in turn introduced him to the Academy. Russell’s striking head study demonstrates his early abilities as a portraitist and pastellist, at the same time demonstrating his involvement in the Academy’s preoccupation with promoting history painting.