Keeper of the Flame: John Howard Whitehouse, 1873-1955

Keeper of the Flame: John Howard Whitehouse, 1873-1955

30 April - 2 October 2005

This exhibition celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the death of John Howard Whitehouse - politician, author, educationalist and lifelong supporter of John Ruskin’s work.

As one of its founders and its first secretary, the young John Howard Whitehouse delivered a loyal message from the Ruskin Society of Birmingham in February 1899, on Ruskin's eightieth birthday. He went on to become the leading figure involved in maintaining Ruskin's memory, arranging a national memorial (Ruskin Hall in Bourneville, Birmingham) and a centenary conference in 1919. As Secretary of Toynbee Hall, and a Liberal MP from 1910 to 1919, Whitehouse campaigned for educational reform and founded Bembridge School on the Isle of Wight, based on Ruskinian and creative principles. His wide circle of contacts included writers such as George Bernard Shaw and John Masefield, as well as the polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen.

Photograph of John Howard Whitehouse, 1905, and a portrait of him by Concord Morton, 1933

In 1932, Whitehouse bought Brantwood, Ruskin's home at Coniston, and he founded the Brantwood Trust to maintain and develop it. It was opened to the public in 1934, and it continues to be open both to visitors and for educational purposes. The collection of Ruskin-related material, which for many years was housed at Bembridge School, forms the core of what is now held in our Museum’s Whitehouse Collection, which is displayed in our Galleries and at Brantwood.

Albert Goodwin: Coniston Lake from Brantwood, acquired c. 1928

Fifty years after his death, this commemorative exhibition covered J.H. Whitehouse’s career as an author and educationalist as well as his lifelong involvement with the interpretation and promotion of Ruskin's work. Items on display included Isabella Jay’s Portrait of John Ruskin after Herkomer and John Ruskin’s North West Porch of St Mark’s, Venice.

John Ruskin: North West Porch of St Mark's, Venice, 1877 (bought at the Brantwood picture sale, Sotheby’s, 20 May 1931)

When Bembridge School closed in 1996, most archival material relating to the history of the school and to Whitehouse’s life and work was deposited in the Isle of Wight Record Office at Newport. A small amount of material relating to his Ruskin interests is held in our Museum.