Unto This Last: Two Hundred Years of John Ruskin (opening 10 March 2020 at Watts Gallery) examines the legacy of one of the most influential thinkers of the nineteenth century, as an artist, social reformer, ecological thinker and educator.

In addition to a core group of Ruskin’s drawings and publications, the exhibition features works by J. M. W. Turner, John Everett Millais, Edward Burne-Jones and other leading artists of the nineteenth century, many of which have rarely been exhibited in the United Kingdom before.

Travelling to Watts Gallery from the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA), New Haven, this object-rich exhibition includes paintings, drawings, rare books and manuscripts from the collections at the YCBA, Yale University Library and Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library—together representing one of the most important repositories of Ruskin’s work in the United States.

A complex and often contradictory figure, John Ruskin (1819–1900) is recognised as one of the greatest art writers in the English language. He offered new insights into Gothic architecture, passionately advocated for the landscape paintings of J. M. W. Turner and vigorously supported the Pre-Raphaelites. Ruskin believed that art had the power to transform society and that nature inspired the most meaningful art. However, at the same time he was a true Victorian polymath—a complicated figure equally uncompromising and fluent on a range of topics extending from the aesthetic realm to social reform, theology, and ecology.

As this exhibition will show, Ruskin’s theories continue to resonate two hundred years after his birth. His visionary text Unto this Last, from which the exhibition takes its title, challenged capitalism itself and demanded equal treatment for everyone, even “unto” the very last person in line, the poorest or weakest. This powerful book contains a single phrase that distills all his wisdom: “THERE IS NO WEALTH BUT LIFE.”

Cicely Robinson, Brice Chief Curator, Watts Gallery—Artists’ Village says: “This significant and nuanced exhibition challenges pre-conceived ideas of Ruskin and invites us to consider the ongoing relevance of his complex artistic, political and environmental legacies today. It features as part of a dynamic programme of temporary exhibitions at Watts Gallery—Artists’ Village, dedicated to the exploration and re-evaluation of Victorian art and culture today.”

A programme of special events will run at Watts Gallery—Artists’ Village throughout the exhibition. For further information:  @WattsGallery   Facebook/wattsgalleryartistsvillage


Image: John Ruskin, Study of an Oak Leaf (detail), undated, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection