London 1792 - Redhill 1882


Born in Bloomsbury in London, John Linnell was the son of a gilder, frame-maker and occasional picture dealer, with whom he worked from a very young age, having had very little formal schooling. In 1805 he began studying with the watercolourist John Varley, in whose studio he met William Henry Hunt and William Mulready. Linnell also studied at the Royal Academy Schools for some years, and both he and Hunt were employed as copyists in the informal artists’ academy established by the noted physician and collector Dr. Thomas Monro, who had earlier engaged Thomas Girtin, J. M. W. Turner and John Sell Cotman. Linnell first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1807, at the age of fifteen, and 1809 won a prize for landscape at the British Institution. In 1813 he made a sketching tour of Wales. Between 1813 and 1820 he exhibited at the Old Water-Colour Society (which accepted oil paintings only during those years), but although he applied for admission to the Royal Academy every year from 1821 onwards, he was always unsuccessful and eventually gave up in 1841. (He was eventually invited to join the Academy in the 1860s, when he was much more successful, but refused.) Linnell was a close friend and patron of the aging William Blake, and introduced him to several younger artists including his disciple and future son-in-law, Samuel Palmer. While he painted portraits, landscapes, religious subjects and portrait miniatures, and was also active as a printmaker, from the late 1840s onwards he concentrated on landscape painting, eventually becoming the most successful landscape painter in England following the death of Turner. After living in London and Hamstead for many years, Linnell built a home and family estate at Redhill, near Reigate in Surrey, where he lived and worked for thirty years, until his death at the age of ninety. His three sons - James, James Thomas and William - were all artists, and were initially trained by him.