Queens of the Air: Ruskin's relationships with women uncovered at Brantwood House

By Ruth Hazard | 27 September 2012
Rose La Touche with Flowers in her Hair captures the woman John Ruskin loved in his later years© Brantwood
Exhibition Preview: Queens of the Air: John Ruskin and Women, Brantwood, Cumbria, until December 31 2012

By the time John Ruskin’s marriage ended he had already become something of a celebrity, meaning public speculation over the sordid details of the scandal were recorded and have dogged his reputation ever since.

Despite his wife, Effie, leaving him for Millais and annulling the marriage on the basis that he was sexually incompetent, Ruskin actually had a surprisingly good relationship with women.

The Brantwood exhibition, set in Ruskin’s former home, delves into the stories behind these relationships, exploring the way in which Ruskin’s life and work was influenced by a host of female figures.

From his early childhood companion, Mary Richardson, to the nurse who cared for him on his deathbed and many others in between, the display brings together paintings, drawings, photographs, letters and memorabilia featuring the women that Ruskin knew and sometimes even loved.

Effie Ruskin is of course one of the main subjects of the exhibition, but there’s also Rose La Touche, the woman who captured his heart during his forties, but with whom he was never able to consummate his love, given his emotional and sexual problems.

It also traces his relationship with his overbearing mother, Margaret, who chaperoned him to university and actively discouraged relationships with other women, as well as looking at his interactions with members of the study groups he taught during his career as an Oxford Professor.

But Ruskin’s most interesting relationship with women was developed through his writing. His work championed their contribution to both the economy and society at large and he promoted progressive female education, particularly in science and the arts.

Try as he might, Ruskin was never able to find a true female partner. But it is his professional rather than personal appreciation of women that is perhaps more important to understanding his relationship with the opposite sex.

  • Open 10.30am-5.30pm (Wednesday-Sunday 10.30am-4pm from November 1). Admission £1.35-£6.30 (free for under-5s).

Follow Ruth Hazard on Twitter @RuthHazard.

More pictures:

Effie left Ruskin for his friend and fellow artist Millais© National Portrait Gallery, London

Ruskin drawn in 1857© Brantwood

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