Gaskell House Blogs

Exploring John Ruskin’s Brantwood

10th July 2019
in blog, People, Volunteering

Ruskin was one of the most remarkable men, not only of England and our time, but of all countries and all times. He was one of those rare men who think with their hearts, and so he thought and said not only what he himself had seen and felt, but what everyone will think and say in the future.

This is Leo Tolstoy describing, what was for him, the legacy of John Ruskin.

2019 marks the bicentenary of John Ruskin’s birth and is being celebrated with a range of events and exhibitions – many of them in Manchester. At Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, as part of these celebrations, we are exploring the friendship between Ruskin and the Gaskell family in a new exhibition: My dear Mr Ruskin…. Friendship, Inspiration and Scandal, which opens on July 18th. You can read more about the friendship here in one of our recently published blogs.

Ruskin had a interesting relationship with Manchester. As a social reformer, he was appalled by the living and working conditions endured by many of the people who worked in local mills and factories – what he called Manchester devil’s darkness. And yet some of his most important lectures were given in the city, including two linked to the 1857 Art Treasures exhibition which were  published in 1857 as The Political Economy of Art and re-printed in 1880 as A Joy For Ever. The lectures published in 1865 as Sesame and Lilies were given at Rusholme and Manchester Town Halls in December 1865. The people of Manchester responded positively to Ruskin’s ideas – the first Ruskin Society was founded in Manchester in 1878 to promote improvements in the social conditions of local communities.

Last Tuesday I was fortunate , through a trip organised by the Friends of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, to visit Brantwood, the house on Lake Coniston where Ruskin lived for 28 years from 1872 until his death in 1900. Here we are approaching the house across Lake Coniston and walking up through beautiful gardens.

The house contains many of Ruskin’s possessions. He designed many of the pieces on display from wallpaper to furniture – I particularly loved the wallpaper which has been recreated from his original designs.

Standing in his study, it’s easy to believe that he’s just walked outside and will be returning shortly. The Della Robbia ceramic of the Virgin and Child over the fireplace reminds me of our own ceramic in the hall which Julia and Meta Gaskell brought back from a trip they made to Florence and which is generously loaned to us by the Whitworth Art Gallery. The lovely watercolour of Ruskin’s study is by Emma Watson.

The dining room and his bedroom are also open to view. From the dining room I sat  and enjoyed the fabulous views of Coniston Water – it’s easy to understand why Ruskin found it a tranquil place to live.

There is more about joining the Friends of Elizabeth Gaskell’s house here – I do recommend joining!

And make a date to come to our latest exhibition about John Ruskin which will be open from July 18th – it’s a real treat. Also not to be missed are the events we are running this year which are inspired by Ruskin’s legacy – they include poetry workshops and lots of summer events for children. Let’s make it a Ruskin summer!

Lesley – House Volunteer






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