|Title||Mrs. Jonathan R. Wilmer (Sarah Reeves Gibbes)|
|Dimensions||23 1/2 x 17 1/2 inches|
|Signature||J. Russell R.A. pinxit 1803|
|Credit line||Bequest of Mrs. Alexina I. C. Holmes|
|Collection||Work on Paper|
Through marriage, the daughters of Robert Gibbes (1732-94) and his second wife Sarah Reeves (1764-1825) forged connections with many of the aristocratic families of Charleston and vicinity. The pastels of Juliet Elliott and her sister Sarah Wilmer were executed in London in 1803 while they were on the Grand Tour. John Russell was apprenticed to portraitist Francis Cotes. Primarily a pastellist, he exhibited yearly at the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1806 and published a practical instruction manual on painting with crayons. In 1788 he was elected to the Royal Academy and enjoyed royal patronage as painter to the king and the prince of Wales. Russell was an amateur astronomer and made detailed watercolor and pencil studies of the moon with the use of a telescope. To deter fading and deterioration of his pastels, he studied chemistry and made his own medium with no oil or resin.
The pastels of the Gibbes sisters are on characteristic steely-blue paper and exhibit Russell's masterful ability to render the filmy fabrics of the Empire-style dresses and the soft billowing hair styles of the period. In contrast, the facial features are crisply delineated, particularly emphasizing the eyes.