Ruskin Library


Ruskin Research


18 January - 1 April 2016
Life Distilled: Ruskin and Still Life


   Still life – the arrangement of objects, especially flowers and fruit, in a careful composition – has never featured highly in the hierarchy of categories of art, yet it has always been popular, and remains so to this day.   Although he was passionate in promoting the observation of nature as an important means of training hand and eye for both professional and amateur artists, Ruskin’s interest lay in seeing things in their own setting, in the same way that he preferred living plants to cut flowers.

   Although he had little to say about the artistic genre itself, there are several significant connections, not least with the work of William Henry Hunt, whose jewel-like watercolours of fruit, flowers and birds’ nests were avidly collected by Ruskin and his father: Peach and Grapes, bought in 1858, was hanging in Ruskin’s bedroom on the day he died.  John Ruskin’s Dead Chick was commissioned from the artist in 1861.   As always, the work of J.M.W. Turner was central to Ruskin’s view of art, and it is a privilege to show his watercolour of a Dead Pheasant (c.1815-20), formerly in Ruskin’s collection.

   In this display is a rare example of a still life by Ruskin himself, of a bowl and beads resting on a book, shown alongside studies of book piles by two artists who were his pupils, J.W. Bunney and Louise Blandy.  Other studies by Ruskin, especially those of shells, are rather more than simple image of items from the natural world.   The Piece of Rock with Quartz Veining, one of his largest geological drawings, recalls his well-known suggestion that “a stone, when examined, will be found a mountain in miniature,” and while they could not be any more still, both his study of a stuffed fish and Henry Newman’s plate of fish seem to remain decidedly vital.

   There are also studies by his friends and associates.  This display marks the recent acquisition by the Brantwood Trust of two sparkling watercolours by Laurence Hilliard, Ruskin’s secretary, who left his employment in 1882 to become a professional painter, specialising in still life.  Three further examples of his work are included.

   The exhibition has been greatly enhanced by generous loans from the Walker Art Gallery (National Museums Liverpool); the Whitworth Art Gallery (University of Manchester); Museums Sheffield (Guild of St George, Ruskin Collection); the Ruskin Museum, Coniston; the Brantwood Trust, and a private collector.

Edith Collingwood - Gentians (Private Collection)

Edith 'Dorrie' Collingwood: Gentians


Joseph Southall: Still life of fruit


Laurence Hilliard - One of Natures Victims (Private Colllection)

Lawrence Hilliard: One of Nature's Victims


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