The highly successful portrait and landscape painter, John Linnell is now famous as one of the leading landscape painters of his generation and for his close association with William Blake, Samuel Palmer, and other members of the select group of artists known as ‘The Ancients’. This popular view of John Linnell overlooks the fact that John Linnell was originally a portrait artist. John Linnell established both his initial reputation, and his wealth as an artist, through his portraiture. When John Linnell began etching in 1813 it was natural that all of his earliest printed works should be portraits. He worked together with William Blake in engraving and etching at least two of their joint portrait plates. Indeed, during the first half of his life John Linnell was employed almost exclusively as a portrait painter, although this was to change entirely throughout his long and varied career as an artist.
As a close friend and patron of William Blake and later as the father-in-law of Samuel Palmer (who married John Linnell’s daughter, Hannah, in 1837), it is not surprising that John Linnell was to become involved in other forms of art beyond the somewhat restrictive field of portraiture. Together with Blake and Palmer, John Linnell was a key member of ‘The Ancients’, an exclusive group of artists who celebrated in their pictures the discovery of an untainted countryside around the village of Shoreham. They portrayed an idyllic vision of the English pastoral landscape which John Linnell expanded in its more realistic form in the paintings of his later years. During the 1840’s, John Linnell turned his attention increasingly towards landscape painting in oils, and after his move to the country in 1848 he turned almost exclusively to landscape work. John Linnell continued to paint for a further thirty years and became one of the most successful of all Victorian landscape painters, his works commanding sums as high as 2,000 guineas each towards the end of his life.