Although it has been continuously overlooked, John Linnell was the man who was probably the most successful landscape painter of his time. Ruskin once praised Linnell’s “observance of nature" as "scrupulously and minutely patient, directed by the deepest sensibility and aided by a power of drawing almost too refined for landscape subjects.”
Even now, when Turner is regarded as a genius and one of the most important figures in European art, with Constable at his elbow, Linnell is still sometimes grouped among the English also-rans, well behind his ‘unsuccessful’ protegé and son-in-law Samuel Palmer.
The three things that were most important to Linnell were his God, his family and his art, and perhaps the attentiveness with which he served the first two had its effects on the way that he and his art later came to be perceived.
Anyone who comes to know his work, the sketches, watercolours and portraits as well as the landscapes, must agree that he is indeed up among the leaders. Certainly, he never left Britain, and his subject matter remained thoroughly British – the same is true of Constable - but Linnell, like Palmer, was attuned to contemporary Continental ideas and developments, and he earned a high reputation abroad as well as at home.
Linnell died in 1882, six months short of his ninetieth birthday, by which time in Paris, the seventh of the eight Impressionist Exhibitions was in preparation. A certain ‘impressionism’ has been noted in Linnell’s mature style, but it is really a coincidental freedom in his handling, and sometimes it seems to be more a result of the pressure of success than of stylistic intention.