John Singer Sargent RA (American, 1856-1925) Charles Russell, Baron Russell of Killowen painted in 1899 (to be sold with Sargent's written correspondence with the sitter)
Lot 57
John Singer Sargent RA
(American, 1856-1925)
Charles Russell, Baron Russell of Killowen painted in 1899
Sold for £ 125,000 (US$ 165,352) inc. premium

Lot Details
John Singer Sargent RA (American, 1856-1925) Charles Russell, Baron Russell of Killowen painted in 1899 (to be sold with Sargent's written correspondence with the sitter) John Singer Sargent RA (American, 1856-1925) Charles Russell, Baron Russell of Killowen painted in 1899 (to be sold with Sargent's written correspondence with the sitter)
John Singer Sargent RA (American, 1856-1925)
Charles Russell, Baron Russell of Killowen
signed 'John S Sargent' (upper left)
oil on canvas
87.5 x 72cm (34 7/16 x 28 3/8in).
painted in 1899
to be sold with Sargent's written correspondence with the sitter


  • Exhibited
    Manchester, 1900
    London, Royal Academy, Winter Exhibition of the works of the late John S. Sargent RA, 1926

    Sir Charles Russell was a key figure in British legal, political and diplomatic history in the last quarter of the 19th century. As a Catholic Ulsterman he sat in Parliament in the key years of debate over Home Rule. As a Liberal he rose to influence when the Liberal Party reached the high point of its power and popularity under Gladstone, before it was torn apart by the Irish question. As a lawyer and arbitrator serving as QC, Attorney General and Lord Chief Justice he rose to the very top of his profession and was held in higher regard in these posts than any other holder of such distinguished positions in the period. As a man he was devoted to his family and faith, and managed to attain that rarest of things for an establishment figure - widespread popularity and admiration.

    Charles Arthur Russell was born in Newry, County Down on 10 November 1832 to a Catholic family of moderate means. His siblings were destined for the Church but he received a more rounded education, after which he entered law offices in Newry and then Belfast. He qualified as a solicitor in 1854 practicing in Counties Down and Antrim, typically acting as the defence for the Catholic minority. His talents were noticed and in 1856 he moved to Liverpool and enjoyed great success on the northern circuit. In 1859 he moved to London and entered Lincoln's Inn. He was called to the Bar in the same year and after some notable cases became a QC in 1872. He is best known for famous cases such as Saurin v. Starr. He came to be known as the foremost Barrister of his age with an ability to arrive at the truth through meticulous and eloquent cross-examination. His rise to the top of the legal profession is only made the more impressive by the fact that in the same period he was the weekly correspondent for The Nation, the nationalist Irish newspaper and also ran for parliament twice, eventually being elected Liberal MP for Dundalk at the third attempt in 1880.

    The careers of Gladstone and Russell are intertwined, and it was the 'Grand Old Man' who raised him to the peerage in 1886, also making him Attorney-General. The issue that bound them together was Home Rule. As an eventual supporter of Irish independence, Russell was a key ally for Gladstone and his belief in the cause was matched by his even temperament and ability to calmly argue the facts. In the charged atmosphere of the 1880s these would have been vital qualities in parliament and also in his chambers when he defended Charles Stewart Parnell. He was central in exposing the forgers who had claimed in The Times that Parnell had supported the Pheonix Park murders of the Chief Secretary and Under Secretary for Ireland. Russell's eight day cross-examination to reveal Richard Pigott as one of the forgers secured Parnell's eventual innocent verdict. As a Catholic lawyer from Ulster defending a Protestant Irish nationalist politician from Wicklow, Russell's defence of Parnell can be seen as a symbol of the lost opportunity to move towards a united independent Ireland achieved without bloodshed. It was to Russell's regret that unlike Parnell he lived to see the creation of the Irish Free State excluding the six counties comprising Northern Ireland.

    The other major strand of Russell's career was in international arbitration. He represented Britain at the Bering Sea Arbitration in 1893. His marathon eleven day speech resulted in the decision on all points being awarded to Britain against the USA. He was made GCMG after this event and would go on to represent his country in further disputes when Britain was at the height of her global diplomatic standing.

    Russell remained devoted to his wife Ellen whom he married in 1858, they had nine children. Correspondence from Russell and his children still survive and reveal a kind and devoted father, although there are also stories of a sharp tongue if it was called for. He died quite suddenly in 1900 after contracting an illness whilst working as a QC in Wales.

    Sargent conveys a rather stern but capable man, using strong tenebroso lighting. His barrister's bands and bold red sash are a visual recognition of his impressive career as the foremost Advocate of his generation. Due to the success of the portrait Sargent painted another two versions, one of which is in the National Portrait Gallery. The present lot is the prime version.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note additional information for this lot:
    Provenance By direct family descent from the sitter
    Exhibited London, Royal Academy, 1900, no. 630;
    (possibly) Liverpool, 1900, no. 1027;
    Dublin, 1901, no. 18;
    (possibly) Cork, 1902, no. 152;
    (possibly) Dublin, 1903, no. 21;
    London, Royal Society of Portrait Painters, 1925, no. 39;
    Liverpool, 1925, either no. 133 or 148;
    Birmingham, 1964, no. 31.
    Literature F. Rinder, Art Journal 'The Royal Academy' 1900, p. 166;
    Athenaeum 'The Royal Academy (Fourth Notice)' 9 June 1900, no. 3789, p. 726;
    Magazine of Art 'The Royal Academy' vol. 24, 1900, p. 340 and p. 384;
    Punch 'Our own "Private View", RA' 9 May 1900, p. 337;
    Dictionary of National Biography, Supplement, vol. III, London 1901, p. 332;
    R. Ormond and E Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Portraits of the 1890s, Yale University Press, 2002, pp. 165-166 and p. 192.
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