Family and early career
The youngest of eleven children Cheney was born in Manchester,Connecticut to Knight Dexter Cheney and Ednah Dow Cheney. He graduated from Yale University in 1904, where he was a member of the Skull and Bones secret society. Cheney studied at the Art Students League with Kenyon Cox and George Bridgman until 1907. He continued his art education in Paris under Jean Paul Laurens at the Académie Julian. After his father's death in 1908, he returned to America and continued with Cox and William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League. In 1909 Cheney was elected president of the League (the same year he exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Francais); he resigned a year later but continued to take classes there, studying with Chase as a private pupil. Cheney spent the summers between 1911 and 1914 painting in York and nearby Ogunquit, Maine. In 1912 he studied there with Charles Woodbury. His first American exhibition was shown at the Fourth Annual Exhibition of the Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts in 1914 . His first New York exhibition was in Babcock Galleries 1922. His portrait of Professor Candle hung in the Paris Salon in 1909 and his work has been exhibited in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the San Francisco Museum of Art among others. Cheney illustrated F. O. Matthiessen's book Sarah Orne Jewett (1929), a work on the life and work of writer of the same name. A catalogue of Cheney's paintings was published in 1922. Cheney was a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and San Francisco Art Society.
Personal life and Matty
Cheney's health was poor and he spent two years in a Colorado tuberculosis sanatorium and subsequently spent winters in warm climes. He was the longtime partner and lover of author F. O. Matthiessen, who was also a Yale graduate and became a member of Skull & Bones in 1923. Russell was supported by his family and later when the family business was dissolved he was supported by Matthiessen. Matthiessen was twenty years Russell's junior. Russell's death was due to mesenteric thrombosis. He was buried in East Cemetery in Manchester, Connecticut. He was survived by Matthiessen, two sisters, Ednah Cheney Underhill of Santa Barbara, California and Mrs. Halstead Dorey of Boerne, Texas.
- Barlow, Susan. "Russell Cheney : Manchester artist".
- Robbins, Alexandra (2002). Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power. Boston: Little, Brown. ISBN 0-316-72091-7.
- Candee, Richard M. "Rediscovery of a New England Master : Russell Cheney (1881 -1945)".
- Rat & the devil. Boston: Allyson. 1978. ISBN 1-55583-110-9.
- Francis Otto Matthiessen (1947). Russell Cheney, 1881-1945: a record of his work. Oxford University Press. OCLC 493016.
- Louis Hyde, ed. (1978). Rat & the Devil: Journal Letters of F.O. Matthiessen and Russell Cheney. Alyson Publications. ISBN 978-1-55583-110-3.