Ruskin's Botanical Drawings

John Ruskin, Lecture Diagram: orange and purple leafspray, RF473 © Ruskin Foundation

Ruskin, John (1819-1900)

Lecture Diagram: Orange and purple leafspray.
[Buttercup (Ranunculus sp.)]

66 X 44 in ; 167.5 x 137.7 cm.
Pencil, chalk, watercolour and bodycolour on paper, laid on canvas

RF 473


No scale is given and the size of this drawing has led some, in the past, to interpret it erroneously as the large leaf of Acanthus. It is, however, illustrated as Fig 72 in Volume V of Modern Painters, in Chapter X (LEAVES MOTIONLESS), where it is described as a “buttercup leaf”, as follows:

“Two characteristics seem especially aimed at by Nature in the earth-plants: first that they should be characteristic and interesting; secondly that the should not be very visibly injured by crushing.
Secondly, observe, their forms are such as will not be visibly injured by crushing. Their complexity is already disordered: jags and rents are their laws of being; rent by the footstep they display no harm. Here, for instance (Fig. 72) , is the mere outline of a buttercup-leaf in full free growth; which can be taken as a good common type of earth foliage. Fig 73 is a less advanced one, placed so as to show its symmetrical bounding form. But both, how various;--how delicately rent into beauty! As in the aiguilles of the great Alps, so in this lowest field-herb, where rending is the law of being, it is the law of loveliness”.

There are many different types of Buttercup (Ranunculus spp.; Buttercup family – Ranunculaceae), but the leaves depicted here are probably of the Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris L.), a common inhabitant of damp meadows and pastures, especially hay-meadows and grazed grasslands, throughout the UK and much of Northern Europe. The leaves are poisonous and are not grazed by stock, perhaps because of the presence of protoanemonin (the lactone of 4-hydroxy-2,4-pentadienoic acid) in the sap gives them a bitter taste.

This entry was researched and written by Professor David Ingram.