At the artist Fernand Cormon’s open studio, where he took lessons in spring 1886, Vincent got to know the Australian artist John Peter Russell (1858–1930). They became friends, and Russell painted a portrait of Vincent in his studio at 15 Impasse Hélène. The artist Archibald Standish Hartrick, a friend of Vincent’s, said it was the best likeness he knew of – better than the self-portraits or any work by another artist. Vincent owned the painting and was deeply attached to it. He may have received it in exchange for his own Three Pairs of Shoes, which Russell possessed. Vincent also had Russell’s Nude girl, seated. Russell, in turn, had Vincent’s lithograph At Eternity’s Gate and another unidentified painting.
Russell was a wealthy artist who was able to devote himself to painting thanks to an inheritance. He could also afford to buy work by other artists, including Vincent’s friends Armand Guillaumin and Émile Bernard. After moving to Arles, Vincent did everything he could to persuade Russell to buy one of Paul Gauguin’s paintings. He wrote him letters, looked for excuses to stay in touch, and even sent Russell twelve drawings in an attempt to compel him to respond. While Russell looked on Gauguin’s work favourably, he never bought a painting.
Vincent corresponded with Russell until early 1890.