Major Exhibition Marking 200th Birthday of Art and Social Critic John Ruskin to go on Display
23 October 2018
Our relationship with the environment and questions about mental health will be explored through the watercolours and drawings of two of the most celebrated artists of the 19th Century, in a major new exhibition at York Art Gallery in March 2019.
To celebrate Ruskin’s 200th birthday, Ruskin, Turner & the Storm Cloud: Watercolours and Drawings considers John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) eloquent critical relationship with the landscapes of J M W Turner (1775-1851).
Through new research, it will reveal Ruskin’s response to Turner’s vision, together with his own experience of close looking at weather patterns, mountains and the built environment.
For the first time, this exhibition brings together works from York Art Gallery and partner Abbot Hall, with substantial loans from national and regional collections and new commissions by a contemporary artist.
The exhibition book will also explore these themes through multiple lenses, in a collection of new essays by artists, climate change scientists, art historians and curators.
Suzanne Fagence Cooper, research curator, at York Art Gallery, said: “John Ruskin is rightly regarded as one of the most influential British writers on art and culture. His incisive lectures were controversial in his lifetime, and are still thought-provoking today.
“This exhibition will consider Ruskin’s questions about environmental change and personal well-being through his writings, his exquisite watercolours and those of Turner, regarded as the greatest ‘Modern Painter’ of the industrial age.
“It was through Turner’s sun-drenched scenes and his later storm pictures that Ruskin discovers the ‘Truth to Nature’ which he so long desired.”
Suzanne added: “One of the star works of the exhibition is Constance, a magnificent watercolour by Turner which belonged to Ruskin. It used to hang above his bed at Brantwood, his home in the Lake District. We will bring this picture vividly into focus, as we reimagine Ruskin’s bedroom.
“From his window at Brantwood, Ruskin watched the ‘Storm Clouds’ scudding across the fells and Coniston Water. This was also the room where he suffered his most severe hallucinations and episodes of mental instability.
“Using innovative digital media to enhance the watercolours and drawings on display, we will reconsider his bedroom as a space to look out and to look inwards.”
Dr Richard Johns from the University of York’s Department of History of Art, co-curator of the ‘Ruskin, Turner & the Storm Cloud’ exhibition at York Art Gallery, said: “John Ruskin spoke passionately about an encroaching ‘Storm Cloud’ in a lecture at the London Institution in 1884. Drawing on many years’ observation, Ruskin’s vision of a darkening sky revealed his deep concern about the negative environmental impact of modern industrial methods.
“The scientific community of the time, however, were unimpressed by Ruskin’s theories, which pointed to environmental phenomena that contemporary instruments could not measure.
“Taking Ruskin’s ‘Storm Cloud’ as a point of departure, the new exhibition explores the importance of the work of JMW Turner for Ruskin’s understanding of the natural world. With Turner’s vibrant landscapes running through his mind, Ruskin encouraged his audiences to pay close attention to the world around them, and to consider the impact of human actions on the environment at a local and global level.
“The exhibition also explores Ruskin’s struggles with mental health, which came to have a profound effect on the way he interpreted the world around him.
“Rather than present Ruskin’s art and writing as a prophecy of climate change as now understood, the exhibition foregrounds the broader relevance of his environmental way of looking. Throughout his life Ruskin demonstrated the value of close observation, critical thinking and a willingness to be outspoken.”
The exhibition will be shown in all three Madsen galleries, and is included in the York Art Gallery admission price.
As well as the dozen works by Turner and more than 40 by Ruskin, the exhibition will also include art by their contemporaries such as Constable, John Inchbold and Hubert Herkomer.
Contemporary artist Emma Stibbon RA, has been commissioned to create a contemporary response to the concerns raised by Ruskin. In the summer of 2018 she retraced his steps, travelling to Chamonix to draw and photograph the glaciers around Mont Blanc.
Through powerful, large-scale ink drawings, she reflects on the effects of climate change on Alpine landscapes treasured by Ruskin and Turner.
After York Art Gallery, the exhibition will also be on display at Lakeland Arts from July 11 to October 5 2019.