Russell, John 1919-2008
Russell, John 1919-2008
See index for CA sketch: Born January 22, 1919, in Fleet, Hampshire, England; died August 23, 2008, in Bronx, NY. Newspaper journalist, critic, documentary filmmaker, television writer, translator, editor, and author. For nearly thirty years Russell was a member of the editorial staff of the London Times; for most of that time he was also the paper's critic of the arts, which included literature, music, drama, history, even travel, but especially art and artists. In 1974 Russell left London for a similar position at the New York Times, where he retired as chief art critic in 1990. In England, Russell kept one eye open for promising young British artists whose careers could benefit from a kind word by a reputable source. When he was not interpreting art and artists for newspaper readers, he was curating occasional exhibits at the Tate Gallery in London or, after he crossed the Atlantic, in Toronto or Chicago. Russell's reviews were popular with American readers, possibly because he preferred to write pleasant comments about work he favored, instead of ill-tempered complaints about work that roused his ire. His complimentary assessments were often profuse, even florid, reflecting a very personal reaction to art or artist. On the rare occasions when he could not restrain his displeasure, his negative comments were reported to be equally expressive. Russell also published his critiques of authors, from Russian author Alexander Pushkin to children's author and illustrator Beatrix Potter, and he translated various works of literature, primarily work by contemporary French novelists. He produced and wrote narration for art and travel films and created television scripts for special programs about art museums. Though he spent the latter part of his life in New York, Russell was highly respected in his native England and throughout Europe. He was decorated a commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1975 and a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1986; in his adopted home he was dubbed a "national treasure" by the Municipal Art Society of New York; he and his wife, art historian Rosamond Bernier, were jointly designated a "living landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. Russell published at least twenty books on a wide range of topics. These include Shakespeare's Country (1942), Seurat (1965), Private View (1965), featuring photographs by Lord Snowdon, and The Meanings of Modern Art (1981), which received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism from the College Art Association of America. His shorter pieces were collected in Reading Russell: Essays 1941-1988 (1989).
OBITUARIES AND OTHER SOURCES:
New York Times, August 25, 2008, p. A17.
Times (London, England), August 25, 2008, p. 43.