Ruskin's Botanical Drawings

John Ruskin, Tree Studies c.1845-55, RF1564 © Ruskin Foundation

Ruskin, John (1819-1900)

Tree Studies c.1845-55
Pencil, black ink, ink wash and bodycolour on blue paper
55.2 x 38 cm

RF 1564


This magnificently observed study of tree trunks and branches carries no inscription or identification. Stylistically it is comparable with elaborate drawings like the Trees in a Lane, Ambleside, (?) usually dated to 1847, although it appears to be on a large sheet of the blue paper favoured by Ruskin at a slightly later date. It may have some connection with his work from 1854 as a drawing master at the Working Men's College, where he encouraged large-scale copying of natural forms, including tree branches.

Despite the quality of this study, it is not possible to identify the trees with any certainty. All look rather stunted and the season appears to be autumn since some seem to have lost most of their leaves, although no fruits are present. The location is not known. One coppiced tree appear to have pinnately compound leaves and could be Ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.; Olive family - Oleaceae) or Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia L.; Rose family - Rosaceae), though the rather pointed shape of the leaflets suggests the former. One tree that arises in the centre of the study and leans to the left, has an overall lightness to its branches and foliage and a silvery trunk with horizontal markings that together suggest a young specimen of Silver Birch (Betula pendula Roth.; syn. B. verrucosa; Birch family - Betulaceae). Some ferns with doubly pinnate fronds are present in the foreground. These resemble the leaves of the common Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-mas ) or perhaps Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina), but such identifications are highly speculative.

This entry was researched and written by Professor David Ingram.