Ruskin's Botanical Drawings

John Ruskin, Rhododendron Leaves  c.1854-58, RF1352 © Ruskin Foundation

Ruskin, John (1819-1900)

Rhododendron Leaves c.1854-58
5 1/2 X 9 1/2 in.
Pencil, watercolour and bodycolour

RF 1352


This can be taken as typical of studies made in connection with Ruskin's drawing classes at the Working Men's College, beginning towards the end of 1854. The aim was to form a strong general idea of the structure of plants and leaves in pencil outline, reinforced by the simple application of a single strong colour. The pigment Prussian Blue is often recommended in the pages of The Elements of Drawing (1857), the manual for students which encapsulated the principles of his teaching at the College.

In a letter of 18 September 1855 to an aspiring female pupil, Ruskin wrote: "I am sorry to have been so long in answering your letter, but I could not find a drawing which I thought quite fit to send you, nor have I found one now - it being vacation time, and I am hardly ever at the College when the men draw - but I send you a bit of stem of tree, which copy with pencil, and wash a little prussian blue over to fix it. Try to get the roundness. Then take a real stem, any - the first that comes to hand - not too knotty, and try to draw it in the same way." (15.490)

This is probably a group of the elliptical, shiny green leaves 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.