John Ruskin, Chamouni

Mountain Glory: Ruskin’s ‘Modern Painters’ and the Swiss Alps

10 July – 26 September 2010

Celebrating the 150th anniversary of John Ruskin completing the final volume of Modern Painters, one of his greatest literary works.

The fifth and final volume of Ruskin’s Modern Painters, his masterful book of art history focusing on J.M.W. Turner and landscape painting, was published in 1860. Like The Stones of Venice, it was largely illustrated with engravings of Ruskin’s own drawings and watercolours.

With a focus on the Swiss Alps, this exhibition showed some of the book’s illustrations along with other related works. These included detailed tree studies as well as depictions of Mount Pilatus, the landscape of Fribourg and the area around Lucerne where Ruskin identified “the shepherd dynasty”: a simple, rural way of life that had remained unchanged for centuries (Modern Painters, Vol. 5, 1860).

John Ruskin: Mount Pilatus

“...the whole chain of mountains round the lake, from Righi to the magnificent calcareous crags of Pilate, one of the most beautiful mountains (allowing for its want of height) in Switzerland. Wherever you see it, its form is always beautiful, and the pine forests on its sides, and the turf out of which rise the tall peaked crags give it a variety of colour and form which is met with in few detached and low mountains." John Ruskin on Lucerne, from his Diary (18 August 1835).

John Ruskin: Bay of Uri, c. 1858

Bay of Uri (above) was also on display in this exhibition.As a large and ambitious drawing, it reflects Ruskin’s hopes to try and match in his own work some of the beauty and grandeur of Turner’s late Swiss watercolours, some of which he and his father had commissioned in the 1840s. It likely dates from around June 1858, his most concentrated period of work in central Switzerland.