Charles Russell was the second son of the Scottish artist John Russell and was born in Dumbarton on 4th February 1852. In 1874, when he was 22 and already a fully trained artist, Russell (Charles) left Scotland for Dublin where he found employment as a painter of portraits from photographs for Chancellor of Sackville Street. Russell persisted in this profession for roughly ten years and then in 1885 he began to work for himself as a portrait painter.
Russell began to exhibit works with the RHA (Royal Hibernian Academy) in 1869 (before moving to Dublin). On the 8th June 1891 he was elected an Associate of the Academy and on the 18th January 1893 he became a full member. Between 1869 and 1910 Russell exhibited nearly 100 paintings with the RHA, these being both portraits and landscapes and painted in oil and watercolour.
Throughout the 1880's Russell was a member of the Dublin Sketching Club. Through the club he met Frederick Vodrey, a glass and china dealer, who gave him the opportunity to model, fire and decorate ceramics. Many of Russells pieces were exhibited during the mid 1880's e.g. he had celtic ornamented pieces in the Dublin Artisans Exhibition of 1885 and this aspect of his artistic talent has lead him to be seen as one of the most enthusiasic and pioneering figures of the Arts and Crafts movement in Ireland.
By the end of the 19th Century Russell had come to find that his real artistic passion lay within portraiture and from this date he concentrated almost exclusively within this field. In 1900 he made one of his few sojournments into Church art, painting in situ a series of didactic paintings for St Michael's Roman Catholic Church in Enniskillen: The Transfiguration, The Sermon on the Mount, Magdalene at the Feet of Our Lord and The Baptism in Jordan.
These paintings are unusual in that although they are instructive there is no aesthetic subordination to meaning as is common in this type of work. From their conception these paintings have been highly regarded, writers in The Irish Builder on 1st November 1900 commenting on the 'pleasure that is derived from their viewing' and on how 'The colour is rich and telling, whilst the general grouping and strong Eastern character is devotional and appropriate.' More recently Dr Michael Wynne from the National Gallery of Ireland has noted that these 'Charles Russell murals are of the highest quality and can only be related to the religious works of the Pre-Raphaelites in England or the Nazarenes in Rome.'
Russell died on the 12th December 1910 at his home at Prince Edward Terrace in Blackrock.