Ruskin's Flora

10 October - 16 December 2011

Beautiful botanical drawings, paintings and literature by John Ruskin.

John Ruskin had a fondness for flowers. Not only did he view them as a lovely gift for the subjects of his romantic pursuits, but he also studied them through drawing, sketching and watercolour painting for many years. By combining artistic and scientific observation, he came to understand both their aesthetic ‘soul’ and their physical structure, an understanding which resulted in beautiful and highly accurate works of art.

 
John Ruskin: Study of a quatrefoil fringed gentian, Les Rousses, 4 September 1882
 
In his work Proserpina, Ruskin wrote that peace was what allowed him to draw the delicacy of flowers. Such peace was interrupted in 1836 when a scathing review of J.M.W. Turner’s work appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine, one that prompted a reply from Ruskin and “dragged [him] into controversy”. Despite this preventing Ruskin from fulfilling his botanical ambitions, he nevertheless gathered a large collection of important botanical books. He also persevered to create many botanical drawings, paintings and sketches, some of which were used to illustrate Proserpina (1875-1886) and his book Modern Painters (1843-1860). Many of these are held in the Museum's Whitehouse Collection, and were shown in this exhibition.

John Ruskin: Ajuga repens, 1882
 
Overall, this exhibition on flora displayed a fascinating range of drawings, paintings and literature, by John Ruskin as well as contemporary figures. Items in the exhibition were grouped as follows:
  • Modern Painters: flora illustrations featured in Modern Painters + additional tree studies
  • Flora of Chamouni: Ruskin’s studies of Alpine plants, pressed plants collected nr. Chamonix + associated notes/materials
  • Proserpina: flora illustrations featured in Proserpina + additional studies of flowers and leaves
  • Flora of Cumbria: an introduction to Geoffrey Halliday’s publication A Flora of Cumbria (1997), material from the Lancaster University Herbarium + Ruskin’s illustrations of Cumbrian plants
  • Inspired by Ruskin and the plant world: contemporary artwork inspired by Ruskin’s botanical artwork and the plant world


John Ruskin: Diary, 1854