Lancaster University

Ruskin Library

21 April - 29 July 2007

George Allen of Sunnyside

George Allen, by Vieler

Publishers are occasionally the subject of books, but rarely of exhibitions. The new display in the Ruskin Library at Lancaster University commemorates the centenary of the death of George Allen, who rose from humble beginnings to create a publishing house under the encouragement of John Ruskin.


George Allen: Feather from 'The Laws of Fesole'

Engraving of a feather, from the Laws of Fesole

Allen was the most significant pupil in the evening drawing classes conducted by Ruskin at the Working Men’s College from 1854. The son of a Nottinghamshire publican, he had been apprenticed to an uncle, a builder in Clerkenwell, London, and was at that time working as a carpenter. Enthused and encouraged by Ruskin, who saw in him an “innate disposition to art,” Allen declined employment with William Morris’s firm in order to devote himself to Ruskin’s service, as his assistant and most reliable engraver. From 1870 he also became Ruskin’s publisher, in 1874 building ‘Sunnyside,’ a large house in Orpington, Kent, which remained the focus of all subsequent Ruskin publications, up to the Library Edition of 1903-12 (completed by Allen’s family).

To commemorate the centenary of his death (5 September 1907), this exhibition will provide a comprehensive survey of Allen’s life and of his work as Ruskin’s assistant and publisher. Together with much little-known archive material, Allen’s drawings and engravings will be shown alongside Ruskin drawings and watercolours, among them several formerly owned by Allen. Loans include drawings belonging to the Guild of St. George (in the care of Sheffield Museums & Galleries Trust) and examples from Allen’s extensive collection of minerals, now in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Imprints from the firm’s later years will also be on view.

Sunnyside, George Allen's home
George Allen, outside his home at Sunnyside

An accompanying publication by Paul Dawson and Stephen Wildman, George Allen of Sunnyside, is available from the Ruskin Library, price £4.95 (£3.95 during the exhibition) .

All images (c) Private Collection, 2007

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