John Ruskin and William Turner exhibition at York Art Gallery

PUBLISHED: 15:19 11 March 2019

John Ruskin’s 1870 watercolour 'Near Interlaken' (Lakeland Arts)

John Ruskin's 1870 watercolour 'Near Interlaken' (Lakeland Arts)

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A new York Art Gallery exhibition looks at the stormy relationship between cloudy days and dark moods.

Hubert Herkomer’s 1879 watercolour of John RuskinHubert Herkomer’s 1879 watercolour of John Ruskin

When we say we’re feeling under the weather, are we referring to metaphorical clouds or the real deal rolling in?

A new joint exhibition between York Art Gallery and Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal, Cumbria, looks at the links between the environment and our mental wellbeing with elemental works by Turner and Ruskin.

Ruskin, Turner & the Storm Cloud: Watercolours and Drawings, staged to celebrate the 200th anniversary of John Ruskin’s birth, investigates his critical relationship with the landscapes of JMW Turner and his own experience with weather patterns, mountains and the built environment. The accompanying exhibition book explores these themes further 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, explained: ‘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.

JMW Turner’s 'The Passage of Mount St Gothard’, taken from the centre of the Devil’s Bridge in Switzerland (Lakeland Arts)JMW Turner’s 'The Passage of Mount St Gothard’, taken from the centre of the Devil’s Bridge in Switzerland (Lakeland Arts)

‘This exhibition considers his questions about environmental change and personal wellbeing 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 discovered the “truth to nature” which he so long desired.’

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’re bringing this picture vividly into focus, as we reimagine Ruskin’s bedroom,’ Suzanne continued. ‘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’re reconsidering his bedroom as a space to look out and to look inwards.’

As well as a dozen works by Turner and more than 40 by Ruskin, the exhibition also includes art by the likes of Constable, John Inchbold and Hubert Herkomer.

Contemporary artist Emma Stibbon has also been commissioned to create a modern response to the concerns raised by Ruskin. Last summer, she retraced his steps, travelling to Chamonix to draw and photograph the glaciers around Mont Blanc. Her powerful, large-scale ink drawings reflect on the effects of climate change on the Alpine landscapes so treasured by Ruskin and Turner.

The exhibition runs at York Art Gallery from March 29th to June 23rd. It will then transfer to Abbot Hall Art Gallery from July 11th to October 5th.

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