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John Ruskin

John Ruskin, by T.A. & J. Green, 1880s -NPG P327 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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John Ruskin

by T.A. & J. Green
Platinum print, 1880s
7 3/4 in. x 10 1/4 in. (197 mm x 260 mm)
NPG P327

Inscriptionback to top

Photographers’ stamp on plate lower left: ‘T.A. & J. GREEN COPYRIGHT’.
Label formerly on mount (now removed to NPG RP P327): ‘Ruskin’.

This portraitback to top

‘After he returned to Brantwood in June 1885 [sic] Ruskin again was photographed in a sylvan setting … on this occasion his beard had been trimmed so it was nicer to look at, and the setting was natural … the wall of the north drive at Brantwood. The photographers were the Green Brothers of Grasmere.’ [1]

While Dearden’s dating is very plausible, the image was in fact registered by the Greens, then operating in St Bees, Cumbria, on 22 September 1881 and was probably taken one or two weeks earlier; though the season is not immediately apparent in the image, the foliage and Ruskin’s relatively lightweight garments suggest a warm day. In February 1881 Ruskin was first afflicted with delirium; during this illness, he stopped shaving and this is perhaps the earliest image of him bearded. By September, he was sufficiently recovered to take visitors on rambles round the Brantwood grounds and up onto the moorland, ‘walking slowly and pointing out to you his pet bits of rock-cleavage, or ivied trunk, or nest of wild strawberry plants’. [2]

Brantwood was Ruskin’s home on the shores of Coniston Water, Cumbria. Whether by accident or design, his position here against a drystone wall with well-defined ferns, moss and ivies is evocative of his own art and earlier promotion of pictorial observation and ‘truth to nature’. In this respect the photograph offers a quasi-reprise of John Everett Millais’s celebrated oil portrait of Ruskin at Glenfinlas (1853–4), although it can also be compared with Frank Meadow Sutcliffe’s outdoor photograph taken in autumn 1873 (for both see ‘All known portraits’). Two poses were taken, the second showing Ruskin standing before rather than leaning against the wall; both were registered by the Greens, whose negatives were later acquired by another Lakeland photographic firm named Abraham Bros., which has sometimes been credited with this image.

A third photograph, showing Ruskin with members of his household, including the Severns and Sara Anderson, seated on grass outside the house overlooking Coniston Water, was registered by the Greens at the same time. [3]

Another original print is in The Rob Dickins Collection, Watts Gallery, Compton, (COMWG2008.3724), together with two postcards featuring a cropped version (COMWG2008.366 and 367|}).

See also Cook & Wedderburn 1903–12, vol.36, no.52; and Dearden 1999, no.221.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Dearden 1999, p.159. The other ‘sylvan setting’ refers to a painted backcloth in the London studio of Messrs Barraud, where Ruskin posed sometime between 7 May and 13 June 1885. See ‘All known portraits, Photographs, 1885’.
2) Collingwood 1893, vol.2, p.199. Quoting this, Dearden links it to Ruskin’s self-portrait silhouette sketch of September 1881 (see ‘All known portraits’); Dearden 1999, p.127.
3) The present work was reg. for copyright 1881 Sept. 22: National Archives (COPY 1/54); for registration of the other two images, see ‘All known portraits, Photographs, 1881’.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length, standing on driveway, leaning against stone wall.

Conservationback to top

Conserved, 1987.

Provenanceback to top

Purchased Sotheby’s, 1 May 1987 (91).

Reproductionsback to top

Cook & Wedderburn 1903–1912, vol.37, frontispiece (process engr. by Allen & Co.; figure only).

Times Literary Supplement, 11 February 1972 (cropped version, figure only); see also letter from James Dearden, Times Literary Supplement, 17 March 1972. For cropped version as postcard no.139 in Abraham’s Series, captioned ‘John Ruskin at Brantwood’, see MEPL, London, 10020249.

Dearden 1999, p.160.

Bills & Webb 2007, p.32, no.24.

View all known portraits for John Ruskin