Born in Florence, Bartolozzi was the son of Gaetano Bartolozzi, a goldsmith, with whom he trained before entering the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. Although accomplished in watercolours and pastels he soon concentrated on engraving and in 1745 left Florence for Venice, where he joined the workshop of engraver and print-seller Joseph Wagner (1706-80). It is presumably from this period that come many of his works after contemporary Venetian painters such as Sebastiano Ricci, Marco Ricci, Francesco Zuccarelli and Pietro Longhi.
His style, based on the so-called crayon manner, had been developed to imitate the subleties of the Renaissance and Baroque chalk drawing and reached its fullest development in the technique of stipple-engraving. This technique resulted in an important commission to reproduce the drawings of Guercino in Venetian collections, such as Anton Maria Zanetti and Giambattista Tiepolo. The high quality and rich tonality of the resulting engravings led to an invitation to England to engrave the Guercino drawings in the Royal Collection.
Bartolozzi arrived in Britain in 1764 as engraver to the King, the commission eventually led to the production of 81 plates. One of his first private commissions in England was to contribute to the engraved illustrations of Robert Adam's Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor Diocletian at Spalato, 1764. He was one of the founders of the Royal Academy and in 1768 engraved the Diploma awarded to its members.
During the 1780s Bartolozzi engraved a large number of portraits after such distinguished artists such as Reynolds, Gainsborough, Romney and Cosway. In 1802 he left London for Portugal to become director of the Academia de Belas Artes in Lisbon. No works from his Portuguese period have been identified, but new prints bearing his signature continued to be published in London until his death.
The present portrait was presumably executed while Russell and Bartolozzi were both members of the Royal Academy. Russell entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1770, winning the Silver Medal for figure drawing. He exhibited annually at the Royal Academy from 1769 to 1806. He was elected an Associate in 1772 and a full Academician in 1788, when he became Crayon Painter to King George III and to the Prince of Wales.
Bartolozzi's portrait was also painted by Opie, Reynolds and George Dance.
The present pastel and lot 51 have descended through the family directly from Bartolozzi's pupil Peltro William Tomkins (1760-1840) to the present owner. Tomkins was the younger son of William Tomkins (1730-1792), a landscape painter, an Associate of the Royal Academy from 1771. Tomkins was apparently considered the best of Bartolozzi's many assistants and the worthiest of his successors; the connection was proudly proclaimed by Tomkins on many plates. His pupils included the daughters of King George III and in 1793 he was appointed Historical Engraver to Queen Charlotte (1744-1818). His major project in the 1790s was a luxurious edition of James Thomson's The Seasons, 1793-8.