Ruskin's Botanical Drawings

John Ruskin, Rhododendron Leaves, 1859, RF1272 © Ruskin Foundation

Ruskin, John (1819-1900)

Rhododendron Leaves, 1859
Pen and brown ink over pencil
7 x 6.7 cm (irreg.)
Inscribed in brown ink: Fig 33 / J Ruskin / 1859 / Brantwood / Aug 29th 78

RF 1272

 

Reproduced in wood engraving as Fig. 33 of volume V of Modern Painters (1860). In the Chapter 'The Leaf,‘ Ruskin schematises the construction of leaf forms: 'The three leaves of the uppermost triad are perfectly seen, closing over the bud; and the general form is clear, though the lower triads are confused to the eye by unequal development, as in these complex arrangements is almost always the case. … We shall hardly ever find a rhododendron shoot fulfilling its splendid spiral as an oak does its simple one. (7.46) The drawing carries a second date in the latter part of 1878, when Ruskin was recuperating from illness and looking over his drawings, often adding further inscriptions.

This drawing probably represents a group of the elliptical, somewhat pointed, shiny green leaves and the flower bud at the tip of a branch of Rhododendron ponticum L. (Heath family – Ericaceae), a vigorous evergreen shrub native to the western and eastern Mediterranean region. It was introduced to Great Britain from Gibraltar as a garden plant in 1763 and since then has become an aggressive, invasive weed on acid soils.

This entry was researched and written by Professor David Ingram.