John Bucknell Russell 1820-1893

Fochabers, Scotland

Excerpts from writings by Dr. James Russell, great-grandson
to John Russell.

John Russell
John Russell - (1820 - 1893) [1]

My great-grandfather John Russell, grew up in Aberdeen Scotland to become a decorator of Catholic churches. He was the son of Joseph Russell and Jean Fraser. The 1841 census shows John Russell as a painter and his uncle was the sculptor George Russell. He began as a house painter, but by his early twenties, John was working as an artist who also carved in wood and worked in lithograph. Russell did not use Bucknell in his name until the 1871 census. The Buck comes from the Fraser Crest and the Nell signifies that his mother was a Fraser.

The earliest known painting, in oils, is dated 1841 and signed "J. Russell " : his later work was always signed "John Russell" (not "J. B. Russell" , as some suggest; that was his son James). James (1867 - 1956 ) also painted the fish carvings before he left Fochabers. Thereafter, James painted on the flat. A locally produced book speaks of "the great John Russell whose salmon paintings now fetch many thousands of pounds at auction."

He moved about a lot on painting contracts- astride a big white horse, according to Jeannie his youngest daughter. At various times he worked at Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Port Glasgow, Buckie, and Fochabers.

John Russell married Margaret Bennet in 1850, and they had two children - John and Charles. Unfortunately Margaret died in 1855 due to tuberculosis. In 1861 John married Isabella Craigen, and they had six children - Helen, Isabella(Dhuie), Joseph, James, William, and Jane(Jeannie). After the death of John's wife Isabella in 1872 due to smallpox , John took the children to an island in the Forth to escape the plague.

Some time after this, John received a lucrative commission from the Duke of Richmond and Gordon to go to Fochabers to make wooden carvings of- and paint- fish which had been caught in the River Spey, over a certain weight. The family moved to Spey Cottage, Fochabers, and the work was done in a studio at 16 West Street. Assisted by three of the children who followed their father as artists ( Charles, Dhuie and James ), Russell produced a large number of painted fish, although many were destroyed during a renovation at Gordon Castle.

In the 1861 census, John Russell was described as a widower (40) and artist. It is a mystery where John trained as an artist, although he later said that an assistant had "served his time in the same shop as myself". Born in 1820, Russell died at Fochabers of an ulcer on May 4, 1893.

John Russell
John Russell self-portrait
James Russell

Dr. James Russell is a retired Social Science Researcher and lives in Edinburgh, Scotland
Photographs and text courtesy James Russell
Photograph [1] courtesy Theresa and Tony Smith, British Columbia, Canada

The village of Fochabers on the banks of the great salmon river, the Spey, in Moray, is a remarkable place. Over the last 250 years, it has nurtured many sons and daughters who have gone out in the world and achieved great things in their chosen field.

John Russell
1820 - 1893
Still-life and Wildlife Artist
Leading painter of Spey salmon of the Victorian era

Edinburgh born, Russell was a self-taught artist known for his oil paintings of highland rivers and trophy fish. He served his apprenticeship as a house painter, establishing his studio in Fochabers around 1872. Russell was probably the first professional fish model artist, carving and painting models of salmon caught on the Spey by the nobility and gentry visiting the Duke of Richmond & Gordon at Gordon Castle for the fishing, grouse shooting and stalking. He was clearly fascinated by the River Spey and produced many paintings of river scenes. Russell's paintings are today greatly esteemed by art lovers everywhere.

His daughter, Dhuie, became his assistant and in her unique style, captured the natural colouring of the King of Fish. Dhuie married John Tully, a carpenter by trade, and he in turn became the leading expert of his day in modelling salmon in wood. Specimens of their work are still in evidence in mansions, cottages and even fishing huts up and down Speyside. Russell's son, James Russell also earned a reputation in his own right for the painting of fish and game. His paintings were shown at the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin and exhibitions in Manchester.

Courtesty: Fochaberians.com

Paintings by
John Bucknell Russell 1820 - 1893
John Russell painting
Painting by John Bucknell Russell -1820-1893
Photo courtesy James Russell, Edinburgh, Scotland
Baxters Food Group, Fochabers, Scotland

John Russell painting
Painting by John Bucknell Russell -1820-1893
Signed "John Russell 1870"

John Russell painting
Painting by John Bucknell Russell -1820-1893
Detail of above painting

John Russell painting
Painting by John Bucknell Russell -1820-1893
Signed "John Russell 1871"

Photograph courtesy Peter Healy, Dublin, Ireland
Remastered by Kirsty Russell, Scotland
Tully fish carving
Atlantic Salmon - 45lbs
Killed in the Spey-Chapel Pool by the Duke of Richmond and Gordon
Signed DHU Russell, West Lodge, Fochabers. Sale ticket inscribed 1561

"The Duke of Richmond and Gordon fishes about ten miles of water (River Spey) above and below Gordon Castle."(at Fochabers) From The Quarterly Review, Vol. 163 published in July and October, 1886, London, England.
Click to Enlarge
John Russell fish carving
John Russell salmon carving- Caught by Lord Berkeley Paget on the Spey at Gordon Castle - Wt: 31 1/4 lbs. Length: 42 1/2" -Oct. 2 1889
Auction price $11,500 us.-2008

Auction price $2200 us - 2007 (Maine)
Click to Enlarge
John Russell fish carving
Detail Photo
Fochabers fish carving
Salmon carving by Fochabers Studio-44lbs.,length 48", girth 261/2"; caught by Barbara Williams in the Wye, Aramstone, 1930
John Russell fish carving
50 lb. Spey Salmon 1892 carved by John Russell. Caught by Earl Winterton in the Rock Pool Oct. 11, 1892 Length 49 1/2" Girth 28" Fochabers, Scotland.
This carving is #1 in Simon Brett's Exhibition Catalog-1988
Fochaber fish carving
Salmon carving- Fochabers- 1930
This fish is almost identical to the one at the top
Weight: 42 lbs Length: 46in. Girth: 24 in.

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