Born in Lorient, Brittany and having fought in the Franco-Prussian War, Roussel moved to England in 1870. He settled in London and shared a studio with Percy Jacomb-Hood and Thomas Henry in Chelsea. Although he first began exhibiting in London in 1872 it was not until 1885 that Whistler became aware of his work and arranged to meet him. The two artists found they not only shared similar subject matter but their artistic sympathies and thoughts about the art establishment were also the same. Unusually for Whistler and his friends, they remained on good terms for life. Along with Whistler he became a member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1887 only to resign with Whistler and his followers in 1888.
Whistler is supposed to have said of Roussel, “At last I have found a follower worthy of the master”. Although never actually a pupil, Whistler’s influence on Roussel’s work was immense, particular during his time living in Chelsea between 1880 and 1891. Although painting some stunning portraits, together with his pupil, Paul Maitland, he exhibited a number of striking Whistlerian views of Chelsea. The river Thames from Chelsea looking towards the factories and tall chimneys of Battersea was a major source of inspiration and subject matter. His concerns for the effects of different light and reflections resulted in a series of paintings of the river either bathed in bright sunlight, at twilight and evening and of moonlit nocturnes. In December 1888 he exhibited seven such oil paintings of “Impressions of the Thames and Chelsea” at the London Impressionist Exhibition at the Goupil Gallery.
In 1891 Roussel moved to Parsons Green, Fulham and his continued to paint aesthetic landscapes and portraits as well as producing many excellent etchings. Roussel died in St Leonards on Sea in 1926 and a Memorial Exhibition of his work was held in the following year at Goupil Gallery, London. More than 30 of his pictures were included in the “London Impressionists” exhibition at the Michael Parkin Gallery, London in 1975.
Examples of his work are in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Gallery and other public collections.