12 May – 19 September 2014
By the time of the Ruskin family’s continental tour lasting from 2 June to 10 December 1835, the sixteen-year-old John Ruskin (1819-1900) was already a seasoned traveller. Taken by his parents John James and Margaret Ruskin to Scotland, the Lake District, Wales, the west of England and Kent between 1826 and 1832, he had also been with them to Paris and Brussels (including the field of Waterloo, in 1825) and across the Alps as far as Milan and Genoa in 1833. The 1835 itinerary helped to establish what would become Ruskin’s ‘old road,’ a familiar route through France and Switzerland into Italy.
Both literature, especially the poems of Byron, and art were now important motivations. In 1832 Ruskin had received a birthday gift of Samuel Rogers’s Italy with engraved illustrations after J.M.W. Turner, including one of Venice, which now became a specific goal. As a successful wine merchant, John James Ruskin could afford to take the family abroad in Turner’s footsteps, even taking their own coach.
The largest number of the 100 or more existing drawings made by Ruskin on the tour now form part of the Whitehouse Collection in the Ruskin Library. The majority are of Switzerland, which he later called “this mountain Paradise.” Mostly in pencil, some were engraved as illustrations for The Poetry of Architecture, his first important piece of writing, which appeared in The Architectural Magazine in 1837-38. There are also a few known attempts to turn drawings into finished watercolours: these are effectively Ruskin’s earliest works in the medium; of the handful that have been identified, two are in this exhibition.