Watercolours and drawings of two of the most celebrated artists of the 19th Century will go on display in a major new exhibition at York Art Gallery.

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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 contemporary artists.

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.”

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 pencil 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.

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