Man who championed the joy nature can bring
Opening this week at the Millennium Gallery, John Ruskin: Art & Wonder continues worldwide celebrations marking 200 years since the birth of the influential Victorian artist, critic and scholar.
It is the second exhibition curated by Museums Sheffield this year and follows the success of John Ruskin: The Power of Seeing at Two Temple Place in London.
Because of his strong connection with the city – he founded the St George's Museum in Walkley in 1875 for the benefit of local workers - Museums Sheffield has not waited for the anniversary and has staged a number of Ruskin exhibitions in recent years.
So what is different about this one? “Previous Ruskin exhibitions have focused on Sustainability, Landscape and Craftsmanship,” explains Louise Pullen, Ruskin Curator at Museums Sheffield. “This explores how he used his ideas and is much more grassroots. It features his own creations and things he bought himself. It’s much more rooted in Ruskin and his collection.”
He championed the joy that nature can bring to our lives and the sense of awe it can evoke within us. We see how Ruskin’s passion began in childhood with a love of minerals and mountains. Later he would come to write at length about geology, botany and zoology, and how the study of natural history was central to his thinking around both art and architecture.
Ruskin believed an understanding of the natural world enriches our lives in a multitude of ways; for him, appreciating its beauty was just as valuable as any scientific knowledge.
“He questioned the way the world was edging towards the new scientific age and he feared scientists were so concentrated on pushing their discoveries they had lost sight of the beauty and wonder that was being revealed,” observes the curator.
“He felt they were missing the point that getting people to look at the natural world was a way of helping people’s well-being. The collection he put together was aimed towards workers’ well-being. With this exhibition we are pushing that idea and running with it.”
Art & Wonder presents more than 150 treasures from the Ruskin Collection, some on public display for the very first time, alongside a series of significant national loans and four contemporary commissions.
There are botanical and wildlife studies, ranging from beautiful flora and fauna by 18th century illustrator Edward Donavan to an array of ornithological prints and watercolours by celebrated artists including John James Audubon, Edward Lear, John Gould and perhaps surprisingly, JMW Turner. These historical bird studies are complemented by a contemporary, avian-inspired lampshade by, Timorous Beasties,.
Landscapes depicting vistas from the Swiss Alps to Sicily’s Mount Etna include Ruskin’s own Mer de Glace, Chamonix and Venetian Festival by Turner. These are on display alongside Acceleration Structures a digital landscape by contemporary artist, Dan Holdsworth,
There is a wall of Ruskin’s own botanical drawings and from these and notebooks we get a sense of his own voice. “We also display a number of quotations because we felt it was important to get his character across,” adds Louise Pullen.
“We wanted to make this exhibition light in the way Ruskin thought the appeal of nature made for a happier place and wanted to shine a little ray of light for the people of Sheffield.” John Ruskin: Art & Wonder is at the Millennium Gallery until September 15.