This Friday 8 February 2019 marks the 200th Anniversary of the birth of John Ruskin. To celebrate this landmark year, various organisations around Cumbria are running a series of events that aim to reignite the radical flame of Ruskin and introduce him to a new contemporary audience.
Who was John Ruskin? A highly influential Victorian polymath – art critic, painter, writer, reformer – whose work and ideas inspired revolutionaries such as Gandhi amongst others, Ruskin was one of the great visionaries of the 19th century. Much of Ruskin’s work was written or created at his Brantwood home in Cumbria, where he resided for three decades from 1972 up until his death in 1900. There is no better time to discover what made Ruskin so important in his day and how he his influence extends to modern thinking and current ideas of social reform.
Sue Clarke, Sales & Marketing Manager Cumbria Tourism comments, “As the UK’s leading rural cultural destination, Cumbria and the Lake District has a defined culture, rich in music, theatre, poetry and visual art. Not only has it inspired great artists, writers and thinkers of the past such as Ruskin, Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, Cumbria is a great place to experience new contemporary culture. The wealth of festival, galleries, museums and literary destinations deeply linked to the iconic landscapes they are in, creates strong motivation for visitors to keep coming back to experience what the region has to offer, boosting the tourism economy. For international visitors too, it is this unique blend of heritage, culture and stunning scenery that is the big appeal.”
John Ruskin was born in London in 1819, the only son of a successful Scottish sherry merchant. His father encouraged him to take up painting and poetry. He was a leading art critic of the Victorian era, a prominent social thinker, philanthropist and artist. He wrote about a multitude of subjects from architecture, education, bird life, botany to myths and legends. Ruskin rose to public fame when he defended the painter JMW Turner in a book called Modern Painters and his art criticism and ideas inspired William Morris and the pre-Raphaelites.
In the 1860s he became more interested on the politics and society, rallying against the exploitation of the poor by wealthy industrialists. His work on nature and politics would have a major impact on modern British society. For instance, his writings on conservation helped inspire the founders of the National Trust, while his focus on social justice inspired politicians who went on to create the British welfare state, National Health Service and the formation of Public Libraries.
A ‘Rural Arts Revival’ was driven by Ruskin through supporting the Langdale Linen Industry which used a unique style of embroidery called reticella lace which is known locally as Ruskin Lace and examples of this lace can be seen at the Ruskin Museum in Coniston, Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery Carlisle and Keswick Museum. For people wanting to learn the needlecraft technique for themselves there are various workshops run by practitioners across the county.
What’s on and where to go
Brantwood offers a fascinating insight into the world of Ruskin and the last 28 years of his life spent at Coniston. Filled with many fine paintings, beautiful furniture and Ruskin’s personal treasures, the house retains the character of its famous resident. There is a series of special events and exhibitions through the year including Absence & Presence in John Ruskin’s Clothing (6 Feb-7 Apr) by artist in residence Sarah Casey, Incandescence: Turner’s Venice (11 Apr- 4 Aug) and Treasure From Dust (opens 8 Aug) a new permanent display about Ruskin’s geology featuring over 2000 specimens.
An exhibition titled Ruskin, Turner & the Storm Cloud (12 Jul-5 Oct) at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal examines themes in Ruskin’s work including the influence of Turner, his fascination with the impact of industrialisation on the environment and his ongoing struggle with depression.
The Ruskin Museum is a cabinet of curiosities which tells the story of Coniston and provides an excellent introduction to Ruskin the artist and thinker and reformer. There will be a series of temporary exhibitions (Feb-Jun) showcasing aspects of their Ruskin collections not on permanent display, and paintings and objects associated with his Coniston circle and his Arts & crafts initiatives. To discover Ruskin the radical for yourself why not undertake your own Ruskin inspired trail around Cumbria?
For more inspiration and to plan your day out visit www.golakes.co.uk