Watercolor painting depicting a townscape

John Ruskin and His “Frenemies:” Prints and Drawings from The Huntington’s Collection

Sep. 28, 2019Jan. 6, 2020
Huntington Gallery, Works on Paper Room

This exhibition brings together 16 works by artists whose careers have either been lauded or criticized by John Ruskin, the Victorian writer and polymath. While he had steadfast friends and several outright enemies, Ruskin's relationships with many artists were more complicated than that, often combining a level of support with a great deal of criticism. We might go so far as to call them "frenemies." The selection, drawn from The Huntington's permanent collection, includes works by Turner, members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Edward Burne-Jones, the great illustrator Kate Greenaway, Whistler, and Ruskin himself.

2019 marks the bicentennial of the birth of John Ruskin. He published on topics as varied as geology, architecture, and political economy, was a skilled draftsman and watercolorist, art collector and patron, preservationist, and philanthropist. As the most prominent art critic of the period, Ruskin's writings helped shape the art of his time and affected the careers of many British artists. He championed the art of J.M.W. Turner, defended the Pre-Raphaelites against hostile reviews, and inspired William Morris to establish his Arts & Crafts design firm. However, as much as he praised artists whose style, technique, or subject matter aligned with his own approach, he could be strongly critical of others. James McNeill Whistler even went so far as to sue for libel when Ruskin equated one of his paintings to "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face."

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