Botany was one of the 19th century writer John Ruskin’s great passions. His writings on landscape art include close scrutiny of trees and plants, and in 1844 he made an album of pressed flowers picked in the Alps at Chamonix. Most of his manuscript diaries, now kept at the Ruskin Library, contain botanical drawings and notes, becoming ever more detailed in the 1860s as he turned from writing about art and architecture to a broader study of nature and society.
In later years Ruskin began several books on natural science, including Proserpina (1875-1886), which has been described as the most stimulating book ever written about flowers. This centred on an attempt at a wholly new botanical classification, focusing as much on popular names and poetic associations as on detailed botanical examination. His interest was not in cultivated plants – he described a flower garden “an assembly of unfortunate beings, pampered and bloated above their natural size” – but in what he called, in the book’s subtitle, “Wayside Flowers … among the Alps, and in the Scotland and England which my father knew.”
This exhibition includes drawings and watercolours newly conserved and not previously displayed. As well as sections on the Alps and Ruskin’s books Modern Painters and Proserpina, there will be material from the University herbarium relating to the flora of Cumbria, complemented with work by contemporary artists inspired by Ruskin, including Victoria Crowe and Kate Houghton.
Study day on Saturday 12 November, Ruskin’s Flora: John Ruskin and the Art of Botanical Painting (in association with the Lancaster Environment Centre).