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Brantwood, the Home of John Ruskin


John Ruskin (8 February 1819 – 20 January 1900) was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany and political economy. His writing styles and literary forms were equally varied. Ruskin also penned essays and treatises, poetry and lectures, travel guides and manuals, letters and even a fairy tale. The elaborate style that characterised his earliest writing on art was later superseded by a preference for plainer language designed to communicate his ideas more effectively. In all of his writing, he emphasised the connections between nature, art and society. He also made detailed sketches and paintings of rocks, plants, birds, landscapes, and architectural structures and ornamentation.
He was hugely influential in the latter half of the 19th century, and up to the First World War. After a period of relative decline, his reputation has steadily improved since the 1960s with the publication of numerous academic studies of his work. Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognised as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability and craft.
Ruskin first came to widespread attention with the first volume of Modern Painters (1843), an extended essay in defence of the work of J. M. W. Turner in which he argued that the principal role of the artist is "truth to nature". From the 1850s he championed the Pre-Raphaelites who were influenced by his ideas. His work increasingly focused on social and political issues. Unto This Last (1860, 1862) marked the shift in emphasis. In 1869, Ruskin became the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford, where he established the Ruskin School of Drawing. In 1871, he began his monthly "letters to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain", published under the title Fors Clavigera (1871–1884). In the course of this complex and deeply personal work, he developed the principles underlying his ideal society. As a result, he founded the Guild of St George, an organisation that endures today.

In August 1871, Ruskin purchased from W. J. Linton the then somewhat dilapidated Brantwood, on the shores of Coniston Water, in the English Lake District, paying £1500. It was Ruskin's main home from 1872 until his death. His estate provided a site for more of his practical schemes and experiments: an ice house was built, the gardens were comprehensively rearranged, he oversaw the construction of a larger harbour (from where he rowed his boat, the Jumping Jenny), and altered the house (adding a dining room, turret to his bedroom to give a panoramic view of the lake, and later expanding further to accommodate his relatives). He built a reservoir, and redirected the waterfall down the hills, adding a slate seat that faced the tumbling stream rather than the lake, so that he could closely observe the fauna and flora of the hillside. He died at Brantwood from influenza on 20 January 1900 at the age of 80. He was buried five days later in the churchyard at Coniston, according to his wishes. - Wikipedia

I came over to Brantwood last year but didn't go around the house, deciding to leave that until Sal was with me as I knew she had a great affinity with Ruskin. We finally made it in July when we came up to the Lakes for our summer holiday. 

Our first major decision was whether to visit the cafe before or after our walk around the house and grounds; we decided on the latter.

I never knew who John Ruskin really was. Was he a painter, an art critic, a writer or a poet? From the above extract from Wikipedia, it showed he was a bit of them all but what he stood out for mostly, was being a great social thinker, reformer and philanthropist. This was all documented in a very informative short film that was shown before we were given the freedom to tour the parts of the house open to the public. The rooms and displays were all interesting but it was the views over Coniston Water from various windows which stayed with me although I suppose the weather helped. I should imagine it wouldn't be as appealling with the cloud covering the fell tops and being accompanied by a howling gale and horizontal rain!

The gardens, which Ruskin had painstakingly landscaped over the years, were in full bloom and looked stunning in the summer sunshine. The wooded gardens which extended much higher up the fell side and which had a myriad of paths running through them were given a miss that day as coffee and a piece of cake was calling the pair of us. The cafe has been modernised and extended since my last visit but it was still pretty full and we were lucky to get a seat out on the veranda which overlooked the lake. I had a ridiculously unhealthy piece of flapjack with my coffee whilst Sal had an equally unhealthy piece of chocolate and beetroot cake with hers.

Suitably refreshed we walked down through the lower gardens to the shore of the lake before setting off back to the North Lakes. On the way we stopped off at Monk Coniston which is one of Sal's favourite places and where she has some very happy memories from previous holidays. Also, from the back of the walled garden you get a super view down Coniston Water and across to the Coniston Fells, so it's worth a visit just for that.

We'd both had an immensely informative yet enjoyable day out together.

8 Sep 2017 - I have just been informed by Sal (who kept a detailed diary of the holiday) that we didn't go to Monk Coniston that day, we actually called there after our trip to Laurel and Hardy Land, i.e. Ulverston. However we did go to The Sun Hotel above Coniston village to enjoy the view from their beer garden, which to me sounds like a better plan!


Coniston Water

Coniston Water

Brantwood

Brantwood

Coniston Water

Sal

Brantwood

John Ruskin's Seat

Woodland Garden

Woodland Garden

Coniston Fells from Brantwood Gardens

Brantwood Gardens

Lily, Brantwood Gardens

Lilies, Brantwood Gardens

Coniston Water

Coniston Water

Sal taking yet another photo of her shoes!

Brantwood Gardens

Brantwood from the Lake shore

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