Following the death of his father and the closure of the family-run engineering business, John Peter Russell left Sydney for London to pursue a new career. With a considerable inheritance, Russell was at last able to concentrate on his artistic interests and in 1881 enrolled at the Slade School of Art. He furthered his studies at Fernand Cormon's atelier in Paris training alongside Emile Bernard, Toulouse Lautrec, Paul Gaugiun and Vincent van Gogh.
Russell who loved the sea and was eager to escape the distractions of Paris life discovered in 1886 Belle-Ile, a small island off the south coast of Brittany. In 1888, following his marriage to Marianna, a former model for Rodin, Russell and his family made Belle-Ile their permanent home.
It was during his first visit that Russell met and worked en plein-air with Claude Monet, an artist whom he greatly admired and whose influence was decisive. The rustic, rugged and temperamental backdrop of this isolated island allowed Russell to change the ideas that were ingrained during his studies and concentrate on the primary importance of light and colour, capturing the motif of nature in the purest and brightest hues.
Although Russell painted numerous paysages maritimes during the 20 years he lived on the Breton isle, these transitory visual impressions reinforce the animation and continual transformation of his rural surroundings. Belle-Ile-en-Mer as with Rochers de Belle Ile, (collection of Queensland Art Gallery) and Rough Sea, Morestil (collection of the Art Gallery of NSW) shows "a certain similarity, especially in the use of colour. The basic colour choice is always an ultramarine blue with shades of deeper purple and pinks for the rocks, a heavy overpainting of white on ultramarine for the surf and similarly toned blue for the sky." (A Galbally, The Art of John Peter Russell, Melbourne, 1977, p. 55)
In contrast and the crucial key to accepting and appreciating Russell's work however, is that these images and many others, demonstrate quite boldly the differing temperaments of this unique environment.