John Ruskin the artist, writer, and philanthropist and was a great social thinker of his age, and his influence continues today. His love of Gothic architecture related to its honesty as truth, as craftsmen were free to express their own ideas and personalities, rather than being constrained by ideologies such as Palladian architecture (which he hated) or industrialised processes. He would hate the idea of machine-carved stonework. As he said: “We want one man to be always thinking, and another to be always working, and we call one a gentleman, and the other an operative; whereas the workman ought often to be thinking, and the thinker often to be working, and both should be gentlemen, in the best sense. As it is, we make both ungentle, the one envying, the other despising, his brother; and the mass of society is made up of morbid thinkers and miserable workers. Now it is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity.” ( John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice vol. II)
How appropriately then, that the London exhibition to celebrate the bicentenary of his birth should be held in a building designed by John Loughborough Pearson, who some consider to be the ‘founder of Modern Gothic’ and full of decoration, carving, stained glass and ironwork by the best craftsmen of the time including Nathanial Hitch, John Dibblee Crace, Thomas Nicholls, Sir George Frampton, J. Starkie Gardner and Clayton & Bell.
Dating back to 1895, 2 Temple Place was built as the estate office for the Astor Family and today is the home of the Bulldog Trust which brings art to London from collections elsewhere in England in the annual exhibition it holds every spring.
The exhibition in ways celebrates connections between Scotland, Sheffield and London. Ruskin’s father was a Scottish sherry merchant and his mother was the daughter of a pub landlord in Croydon. He eventually settled in Sheffield because of its location and the concentration of craftsmen in the iron, steel and silver industries, and today his collections are today held by the Museums in Sheffield where the Guild of St George, which he established, still continues today.
While the exhibition includes many aspects of his life, including his love for the art of J. M. W. Turner and of the gothic architecture of Venice, including a painting by Sir William Rothstein of ‘The Buffer Girls’ who worked in the steel industry at the time when Ruskin visited Sheffield, one of the highlights is the inclusion of contemporary silver from Florence Maisie Carter in Sheffield, ceramics by Emilie Taylor, a video by the Sheffield photographer Dan Holdsworth, installations by Grizedale Arts and designs by the Timorous Beasties in Glasgow, with work commissioned to respond to both Ruskin’s collection and the architecture of 2 Temple Place, showing Ruskin’s influence continuing today.