Linda Hall Library
Science Engineering Technology

John Russell, an English portrait painter and student of the Moon, died Apr. 20, 1806, at age 61. Russell was noted for his pastel portraits of such notables as King George III and Sir Joseph Banks, and his skill brought him the unusual title of Crayon Painter to the King. But historians of science remember Russell for two lunar engravings that were published in 1805 and 1806, the second one appearing just after his death. One engraving shows the moon as it appears when full (first image; detail in second image); the other depicts an artificially illuminated moon, so that every crater has a shadow that helps define it (third image; detail in fourth image). The engravings are large, about 16 inches across, and they are quite exquisite–they have been called by some the finest lunar engravings ever executed, although we would not quite agree with that assessment. However, we can at least make an informed judgment, since we have both of Russell’s lunar engravings in our History of Science Collection. Our prints are proof states, pulled before the text was added to the plates, and they really are lovely. We acquired them after our exhibit, The Face of the Moon, was organized in 1989, so you will not find them in the online catalog of that exhibition.

Russell also produced a lunar globe, complete with an intricate mechanical apparatus that would reproduce the complicated motion of the moon (fifth image). The tiny earth is for the purpose of demonstrating lunar parallax. This example is in the Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University. The National Portrait Gallery has over 100 of Russell’s pastel portraits, but not his rendering of astronomer William Herschel, which is in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (sixth image).

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to ashworthw@umkc.edu.