Dress and Textiles, London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 18th C, Portraits: British 19th C 22 Could the artist be Robert Home (1752–1834)? Who is the sitter, if not the physician and naturalist Alexander Russell (1715–1768)?

Portrait of a Man (Alexander Russell)
Topic: Artist

Was this perhaps painted by Robert Home?

According to the painting description, it is doubted that Scottish-born Alexander Russell (1715–1768) is the sitter for this portrait, as the features here are inconsistent with the well-known engraving after Nathaniel Dance by Thomas Trotter.

The portrait is thought more likely to be a man from a later generation of the Russell family.

Piers Davies, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Jacinto Regalado,

Based on the sitter's apparent age, dress and hair, he is not someone born in 1715 but later, c. 1750.

Jacinto Regalado,

If this is by Home, it seems above his average level.

Whaley Turco,

I have to agree with Jacinto, if this is by Home it's the best portrait he ever painted. Besides his own. https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw03219/Robert-Home?LinkID=mp02250&role=sit&rNo=0 and there are no similarities. Too much Normal Guy Character exuding from the painting to be Reynolds. Romney wasn't this good not with Men anyway. Not painterly enough for Gainsborough. Should I point out it feels American. Just a Guy in his Best Coat and Shirt with a pleased look on his face.
It Could be Sir Henry Raeburn. It's of that quality. But even Raeburn's regular guy portraits have a feel about them that's lacking here.
This is an engraving that purports to be your suggested sitter. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c4/Portrait_of_Alexander_Russell_by_T._Trotter_Wellcome_L0011163.jpg

Jacinto Regalado,

Input from a costume expert to narrow down the date would be of use.

Whaley Turco,

Whilst waiting for a Costume Expert I Looked around some more. Yeah I Know I don't have a life. Anyway,lol. Take a look at his self portraits as well as some of his portraits. Notice the same green in the background and the faces that look present and not about to go off and conquer the world. He appears to be mostly forgotten. He Trained in London, very talented, and then moved back to the Midlands. https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/search/actor:wright-of-derby-joseph-17341797/page/7 and the winner is Joseph Wright. Maybe.

Jacob Simon,

From my experience as a curator at the National Portrait Gallery, this portrait can be dated to the 1790s from the style of the neck tie and the hair. To return to the original questions for this discussion:

Could the artist be Robert Home (1752–1834)? This seems unlikely.

Who is the sitter, if not the physician and naturalist Alexander Russell (1715–1768)? As stated at the outset of this discussion, the portrait is probably of a man from a later generation of the Russell family. It has a Russell provenance. I propose to keep this discussion open until the ‘sitter’ files at the National Portrait Gallery, in particular the Russell files, become available for consultation again.

Miles Barton,

It's difficult to be sure without a much better image but it certainly seems to me as quite likely to be Robert Home. I have handled a number of his portraits over the last 10 years and this looks quite plausible. His style was variable without doubt and some of his portraits are much better than others. I think it will date to the mid 1790's the clothes almost identical to the portrait of Bazett (link below) which was painted either 1795 or 1796.

The fact it has a Russell provenance would be enough to do a quick check in Home's sitter books at the NPG for a sitter fitting the dateline and the possible surname name. It would be a start at the least.

A couple of Home's to compare:



Bendor Grosvenor,

I would agree with Miles that this is by Home. Yes, Home's sitter book is the next place to check.

Mark Wilson,

From the dress and hairstyle I think this portrait dates from the early to mid 1790s. Compare for example Wright's picture of Samuel Oldknow:


One obvious candidate would be Sir William Russell:


who I think is the of the same family (the Russells of Roseburne) as Alexander Russell who this was traditionally identified as. He was born in 1773 and after qualifying at Edinburgh went to Calcutta to practice. This would probably at the age of 20-21, so in 1793-4 which would tie in with the dress.

Of course Home is in India from 1791 and in Calcutta from 1795, so this could have been painted there, fairly soon after. And it being a portrait of an eminent physician also explains why it was given to the RCP - even if which Dr Russell it is has got lost since.

Sir William's baronetcy died out in 1915 with the death of his grandson, but the Misses Russell who donated it could be the latter's daughters and/or nieces (his brother died in 1914).

Mark Wilson,

I made my previous post before I had another good look at the two portraits that Miles Barton linked to above and I hadn't realised just how much they reinforce the date and Indian setting of this portrait. The picture of Richard Campbell Bazett in particular shows identical dress in colour and shape: same coat in the same colour with the same collar and large flap at the back; same white lining; same neckwear; same haircut. Edmeades' is also similar, though you can't see if there is a flap. If the East India Company Service didn't have a uniform for their officials there was clearly a 'look' they were supposed to have.

The only difference is that this sitter's is powdered (as is Edmeades' in the other portrait). That big flap seems to have been to protect the clothing from powder during wear. But using hair powder went rapidly out of fashion from the mid-90s as looks became ever-more 'natural' and in response to Pitt's tax of 1795. So again we are looking at that sort of date for the portrait.

The Russell family tree has the usual problems for the period and social status (large numbers of children from several wives over long periods; same forenames used again and again; cousin marriage) but I reckon this (later Sir) William was the nephew of the Alexander this was previously said to be. The large generation gap is because this William was the baby of the family, born when his father was 61. Confusingly the sources also give an older brother called William (b 1755) described as a 'surgeon in Edinburgh', possibly just deceased before the birth of this one was born, though about 18 would be youngish to qualify and practice.

I suppose this could have been painted before Russell left for India, but otherwise Home would be the obvious contender to have produced this (Hickey is elsewhere 1791-8). The only objection is that given above - that it would have to be the best thing he ever produced, but then something has to be. It may be he was doing his best to impress in a new market or that this has been particularly well looked-after.

Jacob Simon,

I find Miles’s comparisons in his post of 16 February compelling and I now accept the attribution to Robert Home.

Looking at Home’s sitter book for the years 1795 until 1800, there is an entry under sitters in December 1795: “13 December 1795 Mr. Russell. Head”. And a payment in March 1796: “9 March 1796 Mr. Russell.” Our portrait is indeed a head in Home’s terminology.

Mark’s suggestion (1 June) that our portrait could be of Sir William Russell, 1st Baronet (1773-1839) is a very helpful one. It may not be easy to verify the idea.

Marcie Doran,

There is a reference to the “Misses Russell” in an article (attached) in ‘The Scotsman’ of June 8, 1949, about London auctions. At the time of the donation in 1958, perhaps everyone in the fine art world knew who they were.

Osmund Bullock,

That may prove a very valuable find, Marcie. Two(?) unmarried Russell sisters selling what was likely a Scottish family heirloom in London in 1949 stand a very good chance of being the same unmarried Russell sisters who presented our portrait to the RCP in 1958. Better still, the sale was at Christie's, and being more than 50 years ago we may be able to get an address and/or first name or initials from Christie's Archive.

I'm attaching the 1915 Burke's Peerage entry for the relevant Russell baronets, of Charlton Park. It is not apparent from that how the reputed sitter Alexander Russell (1715–1768) fits into the family, though their strong medical tradition makes it likely that he does. Nor is there any sign anywhere of two unmarried daughters who might be the donors - indeed the third and last baronet seems to have died unmarried and sine prole. They could, however, have been descendants of one the first Sir William's many elder brothers, and thus quite likely inheritors of family chattels when the male line of the baronet's descendants failed and the baronetcy expired.

The Burke's genealogy does, though, reveal another plausible candidate for Home's 'Mr Russell'. Among those elder brothers of the first Sir William were two others in the HEICo's service. One, Daniel, died too early (in 1787), but the other (1760-1826) was actually called Alexander. Perhaps the family tradition was quite right that the portrait was of Alexander Russell, but not the one they thought. That seems even more likely as this Alexander died without issue - it would be unsurprising if his portrait then passed to a brother or nephew, but that as a rather distant relation to later family members his identity became lost or confused. There is no obvious sign that this later Alexander was a medical man - but there's nothing in the portrait or Home's sitter book to suggest that he actually was.

More research required, but I won't be able to do much until the week after next. Christie's Archive is an obvious first step, I feel.

1 attachment
Osmund Bullock,

Alexander Russell (1760-1826) *was* a surgeon in India, which must make him an even stronger candidate. See attached from 'Roll of the Indian Medical Service 1615-1930' - also attaching key to relevant abbreviations.

His Will was proved at the PCC in June 1826, and is available on both the NA website and Ancestry. I don't have time to read it just now, I'm afraid, so if someone else wants to check it for anything relevant, go ahead.

Marcie Doran,

One day, someone might be able to check the unpublished biography of Robert Home held by the British Library: Asian and African Studies for references to “Mr. Russell”.

Reference: Mss Eur Photo Eur 331
'Without Permit': copy of unpublished biography, dated c1920, by Ella B Day (neé Home) of Robert Home (1752-1834), Court Painter to the King of Oudh 1814-25, including description of his life in India from 1791 until his death.

Marcie Doran,

The "Misses Russell' who donated this work were "the Misses Russell of Canterbury". See item #3 of the attached snippet and the page numbered 281 of this document by Janet Starkey:


Here is a link to Janet Starkey's study "No myopic mirage: Alexander and Patrick Russell in Aleppo" (2002):



In 1958, the most likely "Misses Russell of Canterbury" would have been three of the daughters of Major-General John Cecil Russell (1839–1909) and his wife Hester Frances Russell (née Thornhill)(1844–1918) of Barton Court, Canterbury.

The couple had seven daughters: Magdalene (1869–1946), Minna (1872–1941), Brenda (1872–1957), Hester Frances (1878–1961), Alexandra Alberta (1883–1966), Cecil (1886–1973) and Joan (1888–1972). The dates are from a family tree on Ancestry. I have attached John's obituary and the family's 1911 Census entry.

I did not order John's will since he would have bequeathed his estate to his wife. His wife Hester did not mention works of art in her will (1903) and codicil (1909). She excluded her daughter Hester Frances from her estate since she was provided for following her marriage to Hugh Burdett Money-Coutts.

Alexandra Alberta Russell, Cecil Russell and Joan Russell were likely "the Misses Russell" who donated this work. It was likely donated due to an agreement the sisters had made with their sister Brenda Russell (d. 16 December 1957).

Brenda did not mention works of art in her will (3 June 1948) but she did mention that a memorandum might accompany her will. She made bequests to her sisters Alexandra Alberta, Cecil and Joan but not to Hester Frances. The date of probate was 2 May 1958.


In 1958, Miss A.A. Russell (likely Alexandra Alberta Russell) also donated a portrait to the British Library. Note that it was signed by the artist (Philippe Mercier) and inscribed "Aged 79". Its current title is 'Dr Alexander Russell of Braidshaw' but it is probably the portrait that was discussed in item #1 ('Claude Russell (1733–1820)') and item #2 ('John Russell WS of Braidshaw (1671/1672–27January 1759)') of the attached snippet.


Marcie Doran,

The "Misses Russell' who sold the Jacobite glass that was mentioned in the newspaper article from 1949 (10/11/2021 21:31) were from Edinburgh. One of the research notes on the Bonham's website when that glass was sold at auction on 1 October 2003 states: "This glass has been known as the ‘Russell Amen’ as it belonged to the Russell family of Edinburgh from at least the 1880s until 1949."


That family might be the family of doctors discussed at the following link:


Since the patriarch of that family passed away in 1940, it makes sense that his daughters would have sold the valuable glass but it does not make sense that they would have donated works of art to establishments in London.

Osmund Bullock,

I did a lot of work on all this a year ago, and have masses more information about the (almost certain) sitter, the East India Company surgeon (and later doctor) Alexander Russel[l] (1760-1826)...but as ever failed to collate and post it at the time. I will endeavour to to do so over the next couple of weeks, though HMRC's self-assessment deadline on the 31st will divide my attention for a while.

The Misses Russell, donors of this and the other portraits, and the sellers of the Jacobite glass in 1949, are all the same people, and were indeed two** or more of the seven daughters of Maj-General John Cecil Russell (1839-1909). Bonhams' research note is slightly unclear (and/or you're taking it too literally). Many members of this Russell family were historically of Edinburgh; but though born in Scotland, John Cecil joined an English regiment (as thousands of Scots did), and when not overseas with them, was based in England. Ultimately he settled in Canterbury where he bought a large house, Barton Court, in 1902, and his unmarried daughters continued to live there after his death. Not that there would be anything remotely unusual in a Scot giving works of art to London-based collections, especially great ones like the British Library - we are all still British, Marcie, even if some north of the border would wish it otherwise! Furthermore, the BL holds by far the most important collection to do with British India, including all the HEICo and India Office records.

(**At least one newspaper report of the glass's sale says the 'Misses Russell' were just two in number - see attached)

Osmund Bullock,

There is much more detail and evidence to share in due course, but the basic genealogy is that Maj-General Russell, father of our donor(s), was the great-grandson of Alexander Russell’s elder brother John (1753-1792), who was like his father and other family members, an Edinburgh-based ‘Clerk to the Signet’ (a Scottish legal qualification). I’m attaching a page from Burke’s Peerage 1915 that I posted before, but to which I’ve now added (in green) a simplified tree showing this descent.

Alexander died in 1826 in London unmarried and without issue. I can’t remember at the moment what I concluded about the route the portrait (if he) may have taken to its later owners, but will re-familiarize myself with that and the rest of the research findings in the next week or two.

Marcie Doran,

Thanks for that interesting information, Osmund. I have ordered the wills of Minna, Magdalene, Alexandra Alberta, Joan and Cecil Russell. I will add to the discussion only if one of the wills contains something that should be brought to light.

Osmund Bullock,

Well, it's your money...but it would be surprising if there's any mention of the portrait in the Wills of Alexandra (d.1966), Joan (d.1972) or Cecil (d.1973), as it was donated to the Collection well within their lifetimes (and the year after the death of Brenda, which presumably triggered the gift). In any case we already know that the portrait came from the sisters, and that the family apparently believed it was of the earlier (and far better-known) medical Alexander Russell.

If it *is* specifically mentioned anywhere it will probably be as just 'the portrait of Alexander Russell'; in fact it is highly probable that by 1958 - long before the internet-led explosion in family history interest - no-one in the family would even have known of the later Alexander Russell, given he was born almost two centuries before, was one of nine siblings (seven of them sons), never married or had children, was not notable for an outstanding career or great longevity, and spent most of his adult life in India. Even today how many people know anything about their great-great-grandfather's younger brother?

Marcie Doran,

I guess I was just curious, Osmund. The five wills have arrived. Magdalene’s will was the most interesting one to read – she was the eldest sibling. It included a lengthy and quite fascinating list of bequests. The list did not include a Jacobite glass. Other than a portrait of her paternal grandfather, which she bequeathed to a nephew, she left the family portraits to “such of my sisters as shall be unmarried at my death and to be disposed of as they or the majority in case of difference shall determine”. Both Magdalene and Minna drafted their wills on 30 July 1940.

Alexandra Alberta’s will was drafted on 15 May 1939 – before the death of Minna (in 1941) and Magdalene (in 1946). A brief codicil was drafted in 1959. Cecil and Joan both drafted their wills on 5 July 1969.

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