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The King of Belle-Ile - John Russell (1858-1930)

Film by Albie Thoms

Year: 2001, 52 mins
Code: AT-King
ISBN: 978-1-922007-37-7

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The life and art of Australia's first Impressionist painter, John Russell (1858-1930), is celebrated in this documentary by Albie Thoms. Featuring the startling landscape of Belle-Ile, a rocky island in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Brittany in France, where Russell made his home for more than twenty years, it explores the exciting milieu of this Australian painter, who was an eye-witness to the massive changes in art in France at the end of the nineteenth century. Raised in Sydney, Russell studied at the Atelier Cormon in Paris, where his fellow students included Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Emile Bernard and Vincent Van Gogh. but a meeting with the Impressionist master, Claude Monet, on Belle-Ile, changed his life. Thereafter, he adopted Monet's innovatory painting technique and built a house on the island, where he raised a large family.

The documentary explores Russell's relationships with his fellow artists including Monet and Van Gogh; the Australian Impressionist, Tom Roberts; France's leading sculptor, Auguste Rodin; and the Fauvist innovator, Henri Matisse, who went to Belle-Ile as a student and was influenced by Russell to lighten his palette and paint in the vivid colours for which he became renowned.

Featuring the beautifully-coloured works of these innovatory artists, it reveals the spectacular Belle-Ile environment in which they were made, to the accompaniment of the music of the great French Impressionist composer, Claude Debussy, which is performed by leading Australian pianist, Roger Woodward.

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