Sheffield's Millennium Gallery explores Ruskin's landscapes with absorbing tour of art

By Richard Moss | 17 December 2012
a photograph of a snowy landscape next to a sea with a light installation weaving around a small settlement
Dan Holdsworth, Andoya (2006)© Dan Holdsworth, 2012

Exhibition Preview: Force of Nature: Picturing Ruskin's Landscape, Millennium Gallery, Sheffield, until June 23 2013

The depiction of the landscape in art was an ongoing preoccupation for John Ruskin (1819-1900), and it has proved so with English artists ever since.

This new exhibition at the Millennium Gallery takes the ideas of the Victorian critic and scholar as a starting point for an absorbing journey into how artists past and present represent the world around them.

Paintings by JMW Turner, George Frederick Watts, the Pre-Raphaelites and the great man himself share gallery space with work by contemporary artists, including Julian Opie and Kathy Prendergast.

Glasswork and furniture also feature in a show that is as full of vibrancy, energy and surprises as the landscapes that surrounds us.

a painting of a mountain with dramatic red clouds rising beyond it
GF Watts, Sunset on the Alps: A Reminiscence (1888-94). Adopted by Sue and Tony Holmes© Watts Gallery, Compton
Ruskin’s views on landscapes and how to record and respond to them were well recorded in his many published writings during the Victorian period, but in later years his ideas on how to capture and interpret landscape shifted to take in some radical new beliefs.

It was an intriguing development in critical thinking, mirrored here by an intriguing exhibition in three parts.

The Mountain in Miniature looks at the genesis of Ruskin’s ideas, observing parallels between patterns in small geological forms and those in the broader landscape; Seeing the Landscape takes its focus from Ruskin’s initial belief in realistic, visually accurate representation, and Sensing the Landscape looks at how Turner’s inventive approach to watercolour prompted him to revise his opinions and explores the importance of conveying our emotional response to the landscape.

As you would expect from this critical and curatorial trajectory, there are some interesting selections.

Dan Holdsworth’s haunting photograph of a stunning winter wasteland lit by artificial light, Andoya, and the beautiful desolation of George Shaw’s haunting urban dystopia The End of Time (see our Curator's Choice) are just two of the pieces that would have drawn some interesting responses from the great Victorian sage.

Similarly, an inherently contemporary take on landscape (and Ruskin's ideas about patterns and geological formations) is teased out by glass artist Peter Layton in his Turquoise Glacier standing form.

The artworks, largely drawn from Sheffield’s own collections but augmented by significant loans, are joined by Ruskin’s own precise topographical studies selected from the collections of the Guild of St George, which he founded in 1871.

The Guild’s collection of Ruskin’s drawings, watercolours, prints, plaster casts, minerals and illustrated books were made available as a creative resource for the metal workers of Sheffield in 1875 when St George’s Museum opened in the suburb of Walkley. They still reside in the city, here at the Millennium Gallery.

This then is a fitting tribute to the lifelong passion of a man inspired by beauty and “what is lovely in the life of nature and heroic in the life of men”.

  • Open 10am–5pm (11am-4pm Sunday, closed December 25 and 26, January 1). Admission free.

More pictures:

a painting of an urban landscape with the concrete flooring remains of demolished buildings in the foreground
George Shaw, The End of Time, 2008-9.© the artist

a Turner landscape of abstract golden browns and washed out hues
JMW Turner, Landscape with Water (circa 1840-5)© Tate, London 2012

a photo of a large ceramic vase with an intricate blue and white strata pattern
Peter Layton, Turquoise Glacier standing form (2011)© Peter Layton, 2012

a painting of a snowy mountain landscape
John Ruskin, Matterhorn from the Moat of the Riffelhorn (1849)© Collection of The Guild of St George © Museums Sheffield

a photo of a wooden inlaid box cabinet
Jon Male, Three Peaks (2010)© studiojonmale, 2012

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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