John Russell’s two remarkable engravings of the moon, sold for £100,000 at Christie’s.

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Books and works on paper

The pair of ‘Lunar Planispheres’ was produced in 1805-06 by John Russell.

Framed copperplate stipple engravings in which the moon has a diameter of 15in (38cm), they show in one instance the moon in a flat light, and in the other, a hypothetical oblique light.

The latter was published some six months after Russell, a painter best known for his portrait work, had died.

A number of scientists were among his sitters and the astronomer William Herschel, whom he painted holding a stellar chart following his discovery of Venus, was the friend who supplied the powerful telescope that he needed for his observations.

The few astronomy books on my own shelves make no mention of Russell (1745-1806) but his Wikipedia entry says that he had the assistance of his daughter in producing a lunar map and that “he engraved on two plates which formed a globe showing the visible surface of the moon – it took 20 years to finish”.

Russell is also said to have invented an apparatus for exhibiting the phenomena of the moon, which he called ‘Selenographia’ and “produced a large and highly detailed pastel drawing of The Face of the Moon (1793-97)”.