Gilbert Russell returns to Mottisfont

Portrait of Major Gilbert Russell (1875-1942) by Sir William Orpen (1878-1931), pencil and watercolour on paper. ©Waddington's

We have just succesfully bid at auction at Waddington’s in Toronto for this portrait by Sir William Orpen of Major Gilbert Russell, a former owner of Mottisfont Abbey, Hampshire. We received a last-minute tip-off from Tim Knox, director of Sir John Soane’s Museum and himself a keen collector, that this was coming up. In the nick of time we were able to locate some funds and set up a bid. 

The south front of Mottisfont Abbey. ©NTPL/Robert Morris

Gilbert Russell was a great-grandson of the 6th Duke of Bedford. His military career took him to Egypt and the Sudan in 1898, South Africa between 1899 and 1902 and France during the First World War. He married Maud Nelke, who was to become a prominent hostess and patron of the arts.

The drawing room decorated by Rex Whistler. ©NTPL/Andreas von Einsiedel

The Russells bought Mottisfont in 1934 from the Barker-Mill family and set about refurbishing it inside and out. The interiors were furnished in the neo-Georgian style which was then a relatively avant-garde taste. In the garden the Russells employed both Norah Lindsay and Geoffrey Jellicoe to redesign specific areas.

The parterre on the south front designed by Norah Lindsay. ©NTPL/Robert Morris

The Russells entertained a circle of artists and writers, and Maud had her portrait painted by Orpen, John Singer Sargent, Sir William Nicholson and Henri Matisse (although she professed herself to be ‘horrified’ by how Matisse had depicted her). They commissioned Rex Whistler to decorate the drawing room at Mottisfont in his romantic and whimsical style.

The lime walk on the north front designed by Geoffrey Jellicoe. ©NTPL/Stephen Robson

We previously didn’t have any image of Gilbert, and it is very satisfying to see a portrait of the man who, together with his wife, shaped Mottisfont as we see it today – and by an interesting artist to boot.

15 Responses to “Gilbert Russell returns to Mottisfont”

  1. Mark D. Ruffner Says:

    I’m a great admirer of Sir William Orpen’s work, though I don’t associate this drawiing with his painting style. Obviously, though, this is a fine portrait, and I appreciate seeing this more delicate side of Orpen. It has an almost-Ingres look to it, don’t you think?

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Mark, thanks – yes this portrait has the look of a ‘moderne’ sort of Ingres, doesn’t it 🙂

  3. Chris Stratton Says:

    Yet another good reason for a visit to Mottisfont. One of my favourite properties. Congratulations.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Chris, thanks very much.

  5. HRH The Duchess of State Says:

    Dahhling the photos left me wishing for many, many more! simply beautiful! congratulations on your latest aquisition.

  6. visitinghousesandgardens Says:

    I really like the cat at Mottisfont – it’s always trying to get inside and the volunteers have to keep a look out. The other great NT property-dwelling cat is at Castle Drogo. Don’t suppose you know either of their names?

  7. Robert Smith Says:

    to visitinghousesand gardens; the cat’s name is Murphy. He occasionally likes to sit on the back of the visitor shuttle and have a ride. He’s a great character, and catches the odd squirrel or two. I am a garden guide/buggy driver at Mottisfont, and love every minute of it! mottisfonttransporter

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    HRH, thank you.

    Visiting and Robert, thank you for introducing us to Murphy 🙂 I will try find out the name of the Drogo cat.

    There is also supposed to be a prominent cat at Chartwell – Churchill had one, and when it had eventually used up its ninth life the NT ‘reincarnated’ it with a similar one, and so on to the present day.

  9. visitinghousesandgardens Says:

    thank you Robert. it’s always nice to push a name to four furry paws.

  10. style court Says:

    I also like Anrep’s informal portrait of Maude reading or writing in bed — I think the V & A has it.

    Emile, was the Matisse in the Sotheby’s sale? Is it in the National Gallery? What about the Sargent? Seems Maude was sketched or painted by everyone but Picasso 🙂

  11. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Courtney, thanks for mentioning that charming picture of her sitting up in bed by Anrep in the V&A (it can be seen via this link: – with such a characteristically 1920s-30s baroque-style headboard.

    In 1952 he also incroporated a portrait of her into a mosaic in the north vestibule of the National Gallery in London, as ‘Folly, patron of the arts.’

    Yes Maud associated with artists from an early age and seems to have been an inspirational sitter.

    Apparently Matisse did five charcoal drawings of her, of which three were discarded. The remaining two came up at auction at Sotheby’s in 1985, but we don’t know where they currently are.

    The Sargent portrait of her was also a charcoal drawing, done in 1911, and shows her wearing a poet’s laurel crown.

    The Nicholson portrait of her, c. 1914, is in the Ferens Art Gallery, Hull:

  12. style court Says:

    Ask and you shall receive! Thanks so much, Emile. Very, very helpful. I’m going to search Sotheby’s archives for the Matisses. Also, that 1914 Nicholson is the antitheses of a frothy portrait with her bold jacket and the simplified color palette — so in keeping with what was happening in art at the time. Again, thank you!

  13. style court Says:

    BTW, I think Nicholson’s son, Ben, is going to be represented in the upcoming Tate show, Picasso and Modern British Art.

  14. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes that Nicholson portrait really sings, doesn’t it, in spite of the demure pose of the sitter?

    I love Ben Nicholson: purist and yet earthy.

    The mesmerising Sargent portrait of Maud can be seen here:

    My colleagues weren’t aware of the Anrep in the V&A, so thanks again for bringing it to our attention!

  15. style court Says:

    It is mesmerising — thanks for the link!

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