Archive of visionary thinker secured for the nation

John Ruskin’s watercolour, pencil and body colour of ‘The Walls of Lucerne’ (1866) from the Whitehouse Ruskin Collection. Image Courtesy of the Ruskin Foundation, The Ruskin, Lancaster University 
© Image Courtesy of the Ruskin Foundation, The Ruskin, Lancaster University
John Ruskin’s watercolour, pencil and body colour of ‘The Walls of Lucerne’ (1866) from the Whitehouse Ruskin Collection.

Lancaster University and the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) are delighted to announce the purchase of the Whitehouse Ruskin Collection. This purchase has secured for the nation an unparalleled collection of the paintings and drawings, books and manuscripts, photographs and daguerreotypes of John Ruskin (1819–1900), the epoch-defining critic, artist, environmentalist and social thinker.

The Whitehouse Ruskin Collection has been purchased through the generosity of The Education Trust Limited (ETL) and The Whitehouse Trust, along with support from the NHMF, The Art Fund, The Bowland Charitable Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Guild of St George, the Friends of the National Libraries, the Murray Family, The Aldama Foundation, The Pilgrim Trust and the John S Cohen Foundation.

Lancaster University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mark E. Smith, said: “We are grateful to the NHMF, the ETL and Whitehouse Trust, and our other benefactors. John Ruskin was a visionary, whose thinking is increasingly relevant in the 21st century, and our ambitious plans will make his work more widely accessible – physically and digitally – locally, nationally and internationally.”

Ros Kerslake, CEO of NHMF, said: “2019 marks 200 years since the birth of John Ruskin and so the acquisition of this important collection is very timely. The Ruskin Museum of the Near Future, is the perfect home for the archive. The Museum’s plan to digitise it and share the work and life of Ruskin with more people than ever before is one of the key reasons why we at the National Heritage Memorial Fund felt compelled to support it.”

Brought together by educationalist and Liberal MP, John Howard Whitehouse, the Whitehouse Ruskin Collection contains thousands of items and provides an unprecedented insight into the life and work of John Ruskin and his circle of highly influential associates, including Edward Burne-Jones, William Morris and John Everett Millais. It is one of the most complete compilations of a single author’s works anywhere in the world.

Charlotte Robins, Head of The Education Trust Limited, said: “On behalf of The Education Trust and The Whitehouse Trust, we are pleased and proud that it has been possible for the stewardship of this comprehensive Ruskin collection to transfer into the care and ownership of Lancaster University, after decades of association with my family. In this way we believe the University will be able to develop and enhance public access to, and engagement with, Ruskin’s legacy. The transaction will allow The Education Trust to continue to focus on Brantwood, Coniston (John Ruskin’s home from 1872 until his death in 1900). We are especially grateful to all who have made this possible, including the National Heritage Memorial Fund and other donors, and for the vision and support of a very important and valuable heritage collection.”

Jacqueline Whiteside, Chair of The Ruskin Foundation, said: “The Ruskin Foundation is absolutely delighted in this bicentenary year that the future of the Whitehouse Ruskin Collection is to be assured in perpetuity by this transfer of title. Trustees are grateful to the NHMF and other funders, and to ETL, for making this possible, and especially to Lancaster University, whom we are confident will both continue to care for the collection and to

promote the works and ideas of John Ruskin to an even wider public and academic audience. The Foundation has been privileged to have the care of the Collection over the past twenty years, and is proud to have played a part in securing its future.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of The Art Fund, said: “The Whitehouse Ruskin Collection is an incomparable resource, bearing witness to the impact of Ruskin and his legacy in shaping our views on art and its wider role within society, still resonating today. We are very proud to have supported this acquisition.”

Highlights from the collection include:

  • 29 volumes of Ruskin’s diaries (1835–1888), illustrated with his sketches, of which only selections have been published;
  • 7,400 letters, which include correspondence with J.M.W. Turner, Charles Darwin, Thomas Carlyle, Lord Palmerston and Octavia Hill;
  • 350 books from Ruskin’s own library, including rare first editions such as Samuel Rogers’s Italy (the book that inspired Ruskin’s passion for Turner), William Morris’s Decorative Arts and the works of the Romantics, including Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron.
  • 1,500 drawings and 500 prints by Ruskin and by his associates including Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais, William Henry Hunt, W.G. Collingwood, Arthur Severn, Susan Beever, Samuel Prout and others.
  • 125 Daguerreotypes, including some of the earliest known images of the Alps and of Venice, and hundreds of photographs of historic landscapes, art and architecture, including items from Ruskin’s private collection.

The collection will continue to be housed in Richard MacCormac’s award-winning building at Lancaster University, and on loan at Brantwood, Ruskin’s home at Coniston.

Through this acquisition, Lancaster University will own the collection, which will be central to the University’s relaunch of The Ruskin as a Museum of the Near Future.

Professor Sandra Kemp, Director of The Ruskin, said: “As the the pre-eminent art critic and social commentator of the Victorian era, Ruskin transformed the way we think about art. He also had an extraordinary ability to connect the social, the aesthetic and the scientific. Ruskin’s foresighted ideas laid the foundations of the National Trust and inspired social reformers, from Gandhi to the creators of the welfare state to modern environmentalists. The Ruskin – Library, Museum and Research Centre will explore how Ruskin’s ideas and work can unlock the pressing cultural, social and environment issues of today and tomorrow.

“The location of The Ruskin at Lancaster is critical, as it will support academics and students, and wider publics, as we begin to redefine Ruskin’s legacy for a new era. Moving forwards, we aim to work with the Whitehouse Ruskin Collection to deliver a vibrant programme of events and exhibitions that reflect the importance of Ruskin not only for his time but for ours as well. Our goal is to fuel a new level of engagement and collaboration with other collections and institutions to ensure Ruskin’s legacy is available to as many people as possible.”

The Ruskin will launch with an ambitious programme of events starting in Lancaster on 25th September 2019 with an exhibition “Ruskin – Museum of the Near Future”.

This announcement was made at a private view of the exhibition “John Ruskin: The Power of Seeing” at Two Temple Place, London, which showcases iconic works from The Ruskin’s Whitehouse Collection, on the evening of Tuesday (March 19).

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