Imagination and Reality: The art and inspiration of Arthur Ransome revealed at Brantwood

By Culture24 Staff | 16 May 2011
a photo of a man with glasses and a moustache wearing a sailor's hat
Many of Arthur Ransome’s most famous works were inspired by summers in the Lake District
© Reproduced with the permission of the Brotherton Collection, Leeds University Library
Exhibition: Imagination and Reality: The Art of Arthur Ransome, Blue Gallery, Brantwood, May 19 – September 4 2011

Fans of Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome’s enduring children’s tale of adventure, camping, sailing and piracy in the Lake District, can explore the landscape that inspired it with a new exhibition at Brantwood, the former home of John Ruskin.

Imagination and Reality: The Art of Arthur Ransome focusses on the illustrations the author produced for his popular tales whilst giving visitors the opportunity to discover features around Coniston Water that inspired his imaginary landscapes.

After rejecting the work of professional illustrators, Ransome chose to illustrate his Swallows and Amazons series with his own minimal but distinctive line drawings, which became a feature of his subsequent tales.

A regular visitor to the Lakes, Ransome often stayed with the Collingwood family at Lanehead on the banks of Coniston Water, just a mile away from Brantwood. The head of the family, the academic and artist William Gershom Collingwood, was Ruskin’s secretary.

a black and white illustration of two children lifting the roots of a tree
Arthur Ransome, We've Found It!
© Arthur Ransome Literary Estate
It is even thought that as a child Ransome once encountered the famous but reclusive Victorian art critic, who he described as the “Sage of Brantwood”, hiding behind a tree in order to avoid being recognised on the road.

Like Ruskin before him, Ransome found in the Lakes a landscape with the power to excite and inspire the imagination. He made the landscape his own whilst popularising it in the minds of millions of readers. 

Brantwood’s director, Howard Hull, believes that of all the literary creations inspired by the area, Ransome’s has “the edge on all the others in the popular mind”.

“Certainly, his Lake District is closest to the experience of the many millions of families that come to the area annually for enjoyment and adventure on and around the lakes themselves, rather than the fells,” he adds.

  • Open 11am-5.30pm. Admission free. Programme of talks and activities accompanies the exhibition - follow the venue details below for more information.
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