Gainsborough to Ruskin: British Landscape Drawings & Watercolors in The Morgan Library & Museum
This presentation of sixty-one images of works by thirty different artists is based on a 1994 exhibition at the Morgan.
Exploring a period in the history of British art during which the role of landscape painting underwent a profound and lasting change, this presentation shows the ways in which that change was vitally dependent upon a transformation in the conception of landscape drawings and watercolors.
In early-eighteenth-century England what we would regard as landscape drawings were essentially topographical renderings.
Their primary function was documentary, providing an accurate visual record of a specific site.
Within the hierarchy of English taste, such works occupied a lowly rung, being deemed more the product of craftsmanship than of imagination and artistry.
We begin to see a marked shift toward a more painterly and subjective approach, however, in the work of topographers from the middle of the eighteenth century.
Increasingly, many of England's most creative and visionary artists found their principal source of inspiration in nature, from the quiet climes of the British countryside to the rugged grandeur of the Alps, to the ancient sites of Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
Indeed, one of the themes developed in this presentation is the importance of travel and the search for new and exotic visual splendors.
Nearly one half of these drawings depict sites outside England.
It is possible to speak of an emerging national school of landscape artists in England by the beginning of the nineteenth century.
While some worked both in oil and the various drawing media, others chose to express themselves almost exclusively in pen, chalk, wash, and, above all, watercolor.
As this presentation so ably demonstrates, there existed among these landscape artists an extraordinary diversity of styles, subject matter, and technique.
Charles E. Pierce, Jr. Director, The Morgan Library & Museum
John Ruskin (1819–1900)
Rocks in Unrest
Watercolor, point of brush, scratching out, over pencil
7 5/16 x 12 1/8 in. (185 x 308 mm)
Inscribed in border, in pen and brown ink, at lower left, Drawn from my favorite St. Gothard, for Mod. Painters 4th vol. / (J. Ruskin Brantwood. 23d Aug. 86)
Thaw Collection, The Pierpont Morgan Library
Ruskin learned to draw by copying the works of Samuel Prout and David Roberts and studying under Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding.
Turner, however, would prove the greatest influence.
Ruskin built a sizeable collection of Turner's early watercolors.
The first volume of Ruskin's Modern Painters resulted from his reading a negative review of Turner's work.
This drawing is a copy of the lower part of the Turner watercolor The Pass at Faido, St. Gotthard, which Ruskin commissioned.
His own drawing of a detail of the Turner work is reproduced as plate 81 in the final volume of Modern Painters.