The summer exhibition ‘People and Places’ at Guildford House Gallery will be further enhanced with an addition to the collection by local artist and Royal Academician John Russell (1745-1806). As well as the new painting, curatorial assistant Gemma Haigh has been awarded a prestigious Understanding British Portraits Fellowship award enabling her to develop professional expertise in portraiture, specifically John Russell portraits.

The painting is a pastel of a little girl, ‘Louisa Halsey’. It was gifted by the Friends of Guildford House Gallery and takes the total for the gallery’s Russell collection (the largest in the world) to 37. The painting is believed to have remained in the same family, who once lived at Henley Park in Pirbright, from the time of its creation until its recent auction.

Lead Councillor for Leisure, Heritage, Tourism, Cllr James Steel says: ‘We are very grateful to the Friends of Guildford House Gallery for this wonderful addition to our existing Russell collection. Like the enigmatic Lewis Carroll, being linked to such a dynamic Royal Academy portrait artist as Russell is part of our borough’s exciting heritage. Our town is rich in and enriched by its history through artists, architecture and natural landscapes. It’s a huge part of what makes Guildford so vibrant and one of the most sought-after places to live and work in the South East.’

He continues: ‘Congratulations to Gemma for being awarded such a significant fellowship. We look forward to her research and through her project, we can understand and learn not only even more about Russell and his work but about 18th century women and society.’

Curatorial assistant Gemma Haigh explains the award was highly competitive. She says: ‘The Understanding British Portraits Fellowship is one of just five new fellowships given this year. UBP is a professional network that aims to increase the knowledge and understanding of portraits in UK collections for the benefit of future research, exhibitions, interpretation, display and learning programmes.’

She adds: ‘I chose to research 19 of John Russell’s portraits of female subjects which are all part of the Guildford Heritage Service collection as I’m hoping to make the borough a centre for excellence in Russell’s portraits. The research will provide nationally significant insight into an under-represented section of 18th century society which will tell us more about local women during this time. Researching the portraits will increase our knowledge of the fashions, families and statuses of the time, adding to the stories we tell by making new links through our collections.’

Prolific portrait artist John Russell was born in Guildford in 1745. His father was town mayor five times and he attended the Royal Grammar School. Russell painted many members of the Royal family, aristocracy, and middle classes of the time, as well as painting local characters and members of his own family. Guildford Heritage Service holds what we believe to be the largest collection of Russell portraits anywhere in the world, as well as numerous prints and objects such as Russell’s easel, pastels, and sketches of the town.

‘People and Places’, held at the gallery on the High Street, will run from 20 July to 22 September and complements art work with objects from Guildford Borough Council’s museum and gallery collections to tell stories and reveal – often unexpectedly – connections between the pieces.