John Linnell was discovered by John Varley, who encouraged the precocious 14-year-old to study at the Royal Academy. The next year, the Academy displayed two of his small landscapes one of which was awarded a silver medal. He was taken up by William Mulready, and in 1824 he formed a small group of like-minded young artists, including Samuel Palmer, George Richmond and Edward Calvert, around the inspirational figure of William Blake, at whose feet they sat until Blake's death only four years later. They called themselves 'The Ancients'. In this manner, Linnell's incomparable early training was given direction and one of Britain's most romantic painters was forged.
Linnell became a prolific painter, producing hundreds of portraits and landscapes, and was admired for 'the brilliance of his colouring, the interesting foregrounds, full of life, and the magnificence of his skies and cloud effect' (Surrey Mirror, 13 Jan 1950, p 3). After his death in 1882, The Times wrote that, 'England mourns in John Linnell the most powerful of landscape painters since Turner died ... At a period when in most men the fancy darkens and the eyes see few visions, John Linnell perceived the veil lifting from nature, and felt that he was consecrated to be her prophet. Year by year new splendours illuminated his canvas. His colours deepened and glowed more gorgeously. He was never disloyal to natural truth. Gorse and heather and waving corn and quivering timber were drawn with ever tint and spot of light and droop of leaf or twig visible and traceable. Something he added from his heart which transfigured the whole' (28 Jan 1882)