‘On Home Ground’: Ruskin in England and Scotland

A new exhibition at the Ruskin Library

‘On Home Ground’: Ruskin in England and Scotland

18 September – 15 December 2017

The depictions of French cathedrals, Venetian palaces and the Swiss Alps by John Ruskin (1819-1900) are rightly admired, but he also produced drawings and watercolours on home ground in England and Scotland.  This display includes some of his very earliest drawings made in Kent when only twelve; examples from early tours to Scotland and the Lake District in 1837 and 1838; others from his student days at Oxford and later occasional travels; and those made in and around Brantwood, his house at Coniston, after he settled there in 1872.

Preferring the French, he did not make any sustained study of English Gothic architecture, but did visit many of the great churches and cathedrals, including Salisbury, Lincoln and Peterborough.  As a student he was involved with the Oxford Society for Promoting the Study of Gothic Architecture, giving rise to some of his finest early drawings.  Two of the largest, of Melrose Abbey and Rosslyn Chapel, derived from the second family tour to the North in 1838, otherwise largely the focus for landscapes, as in the Lake District in 1837.

Travel outside London (before 1872), and beyond his beloved Brantwood in later years, was usually occasioned by visits to friends, when there was little opportunity to draw.  Exceptions include quick sketches made in Abingdon, Matlock and on a visit to Walter Morrison in Yorkshire in 1875.  At home in Brantwood, Ruskin’s concentration was chiefly on writing, his drawings made there focusing more on botany and geology than on the surrounding landscape.  Two late sketches, of Sandgate (1888) and Seascale (1889), show that even in physical and mental decline the urge to draw never quite left him

View from Upper Walk, Brantwood 1881

Considering its significance to his later life, Ruskin made surprisingly few drawings of Brantwood and its surroundings in the nearly twenty active years after he bought it in 1871. This study depicts the Upper Walk above and to the south of the house, then newly laid out.

(c) Ruskin Library

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