A few years ago, Worcester City Museum and Arts Council were bequeathed four portraits of the Jefferys (also spelled Jefferies) family from Kidderminster. Three of which are by the renowned pastelist John Russell RA (1745 – 1806).
Inspired by the work of his master Francis Cotes and Rosalba Carriera, whose work he collected, John Russell worked mostly in oil pastel and would smudge the outlines then add finishing details in black. In 1772, Russell wrote Elements of Painting with Crayons which is available on Google books here. In 1788 he was Elected Royal Academician and went on to be appointed Crayon (pastel) Painter to King George III in 1790. Russell charged 30 guineas for a head portrait such as this and up to £150 for full-length group paintings – prices comparable to Joshua Reynolds PRA. Works by Russell are now held in prestigious galleries across the UK including The Fitzwilliam Museum, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Victoria & Albert Museum, among others.
Although best known for pastel portraits, Russell was also an amateur astronomer and mathematician and used a powerful refractor along with his artistic skills to map the moon – Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery hold a wonderful example in their collection.
The earliest portrait from the collection is a pastel on paper of John Jefferies (1714 – 1785) and is attributed to John Russell (Right). John Jefferys was an affluent corn miller and leased the Kidderminster town mill. With his growing wealth, he bought Franche Hall in 1796.
Along with his son and heir, Matthew, John was among the members of the non-conformist congregation in Kidderminster who broke away become leaders of New Meeting.
The most lavish portrait from the Jefferies family collection is of Matthew Jefferies (1740 – 1814), the eldest son of John Jefferies and was created in 1775 (top). Matthew followed his father’s footsteps and took over the town mill and, building on the family fortune, became one of Kidderminster’s wealthiest residents. He purchased a number of local manor houses and built Blakebrook House in Kidderminster sometime before 1795. In 1769 a Mr Matthew Jefferies of Kidderminster was listed among local dignitaries as a ‘subscriber’ in a book of poetry by the blind writer Pricilla Pointon, which offers some insight into a possible philanthropic nature and an interest in the arts.
The most recent artwork in the collection by Russell is an 1805 oil on canvas portrait of Matthew’s younger brother, Thomas Jefferies (1742 – 1820) (Right). Thomas was a goldsmith and worked from Cockspur Street in London.
Russell is known to have travelled Worcester in 1780 and Kidderminster in 1788, then returned to Worcester and Kidderminster in 1781. But the dates we have (1775 and 1895) do not correlate with these and suggest that the sitters may have travelled to London to have their portrait taken. Thomas Jefferys (1717 – 1785), one of John’s three brothers was a cartographer and map maker to King George III, perhaps Thomas Jefferies met John Russell due to their overlapping cartographic interests and was introduced to Thomas’ brother John’s family? Or as John Russell was also a devout Methodist, perhaps his own and the Jefferys family’s non-conformist beliefs brought them together?
These portraits are not only a beautiful collection of works by a significant artist but also offer a fascinating insight into the financial, social and cultural gentrification of this Kidderminster trade family.
Artworks Accepted by HM Government in lieu of Inheritance tax and allocated to Worcester City Council for display at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum, 2010