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Russell Flint

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Edinburgh-born artist and illustrator, Sir William Russell Flint (to afford him his full title) was especially known for his epic watercolour portrayals of womenfolk; often caught in various stages of undress. When Flint wasn’t depicting the precise likeness of these semi-naked ladies in watercolours, he was alternatively subjecting his countless muses to an oil, tempera and printmaking visual documentation. Born in April 1880, Flint passed in December 1969 at the age of 89, leaving in his wake what’s widely regarded amongst art historians and lovers per se as one the finest (and most in-demand) collections of figurative watercolours anywhere in the world. Or words to that effect.
Flint’s precocious artistic talent was clocked at an early age by his nearest and dearest and after going through the motions of a formal secondary education as was – although departing the education system at a mere 14 years – the budding artist of sorts elected to take up a six-year apprenticeship (from 1894 – 1900) in the print-making industry as a lithographic draughtsman at a sizeable print works in his native Edinburgh. During his apprenticeship Flint also did his artistic endeavours no harm at all by taking extra-curricular classes at Edinburgh’s Royal Academy of Art. At just 20, Flint made like Dick Whittingham and made haste to that London to seek his fame and fortune. Or rather, to become a medical illustrator as was his ambition back then. Sticking with this grounding from the turn of the century through to 1902 (whilst again, studying part-time, this time at the Heatherley Art School), 12 months later Flint was snapped up by the Illustrated London News, which ensured that his illustrative talents were exposed and distributed to the far reaches of the (then) extensive British empire. He furthered his art education for a third time by studying independently at the British Museum.
Two years on and Flint made an honest woman of Sibylle Sueter in 1905, and after a further two years elapsed he returned to his favoured guise of a freelance artist. During his debut year as a bona fida exponent, Flint was invited to illustrate a selection of classical, limited edition literary titles, many of which have go on to become household names through successive generations. These included Mallory's 'Morte D'Arthur', Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' and Homer's 'Odyssey' amongst other towering tomes. Flint’s artistic endeavours hit the buffers (albeit temporarily and unavoidably) with the onset of the First World War in 1914, when he signed up to see active service as an Admiralty Assistant Overseer for Airships. This conscription resulted in Flint making a return to his native Scotland, where he commanded the HM Airship 24; which incidentally was the subject of Flint’s later, compact watercolour (manifest on the surviving linen fragment of the airship itself) entitled, ‘Hilda’s Bonnet’ which was released after peace reigned again in 1919.
As the country returned to normality after emerging victorious in the Great War, Flint’s promising pre-war career carried on where it had left off, seemingly. Full of hope and optimism for and in his compositional work and the opportunities it may present, Flint painted and painted; and not just here in England but further afield in France and Spain, where he created beautiful paintings visually echoing the immediate, unique scenery and culture of the destinations he wholeheartedly absorbed on his travels. The latter right up until the outbreak of the Civil War there. Before he left the country, Flint was said to have been both intrigued and beguiled by the traditional Spanish dancers which regularly peppered his future pictorials throughout his professional figurative painting career which duly followed.
Industry recognition and success was often a bone of contention for Flint as despite being well received in some artistic quarters he was equally questioned/frowned upon by others of a more po-faced disposition. Flint may well have been justifiably elected Associate of the Royal Academy in 1924 (going on to become a full member in 1933), whilst becoming President of the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolour just 3 years later, yet irrespective of the acknowledgment and commercial acclaim his sublime work generated this was always countered to a certain extent by the voices of art critics who appeared disturbed by a perceived misunderstanding of his seminal pieces which to their minds brandished a crassness in his eroticized treatment of the female figure.
That’s as maybe, however it never stopped Flint doing what he did best, which we have on good authority that he continued doing right up until his death. Flint’s remarkable and roundly celebrated talents with both the watercolour medium and his startling skill in capturing the female form led to a hallmark style which would eventually be the creative measure of the man. After residing in Devon on the outbreak of the Second World War, Flint and his wife returned to Britain’s bomb-hit capital city once the hostilities were eradicated, and that post war period was hailed as the artist’s most productive and rewarding passage of time. In 1947 Flint received his knighthood and in 1962 his body of work was duly awarded a major retrospective exhibition in the Diploma Gallery, housed in London’s Royal Academy. Paying tribute to Flint’s work and legacy around this time, the then President of the Royal Academy, Charles Wheeler acclaimed his watercolour technique as a “baffling skill”, which would later stand as part and parcel of a fitting epitaph to Flint’s absolute creativity and place in the figurative world order.