A lot has happened in the last month. The oak stem from Ruskin Land has now been processed at Darley Dale sawmill (picture below) and Henk Littlewood has begun his experiment to steam bend the planks into semi-circular shapes that will then be made into the spherical space in which my pictures will be displayed. We had a meeting with the two curators at Museums Sheffield to give an update and brought some drawings and samples with us that, thankfully, they really seemed to like. The deadline for the project has been brought forward by a month which is slightly worrying. My aim is to create 50 panels.
As I'm painting and reading I'm also still spending time in the cages below Millennium Gallery where the majority of the Ruskin Collection is kept. I'm talking to people about their views on Ruskin to try and make sense of what his influence is (or could be) today.
My fourth day in the cage was spent with 5 volumes of Flora Danica and 4 volumes of botanical drawings of wild flowers recorded in London in the 19thC and published the Victorian pharmacist William Curtis. The Flora Danica was commissioned by the Danish Royal Family in 1787 in order to visually record all the wild flowers of Denmark, which at the time inlcuded Norway and the area of Schlezwig and Holstein and various other parts of Scandinavia. Cataloguing, naming, ordering, specifying became a big thing all over Western Europe in the 19thC., possibly inspired by the encounter with new and exotic species of animals and plants in other parts of the world.
Ruskin loved the delicate accuracy of the coloured etchings in the Flora Danica. I also found myself quite taken by the way the artists who worked on this collection had managed to not only capture the colour but also the character of the flowers. There is a flightyness in the image of the poppy that makes it almost flutter off the page and a robust stubbornness in the dandelion that you can almost smell. The reason for being drawn to these images is not only because Ruskin collected these volumes but also because flowers feature in Ruskin's favourite paintings.
One of the paintings that Ruskin was said to have 're-discovered' was Sandro Botticelli's painting 'Primavera', housed at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Ruskin loved this painting because, allegedly, Botticelli had actually painted the flowers in this painting from nature and not, as many artists tended to do at that time, just made them up. There are people who dispute this but many of the flowers that appear in the painting have been identified as being native to Tuscany. In 'Primavera' a number of mythological characters are depicted, 3 of whom are identified as 'The Three Graces' who appear to be absorbed in a triangular dance, almost trance-like.
When I'm reading about Ruskin I get this sense of a very intelligent, well-meaning but also rather aloof man who was a bit hopeless when it came to women his own age. I also feel very uncomfortable when I read about his interests in young girls - he was obsessed with one (Rose) but he also frequently visited an all girls school and referred to the girls as his 'birds'. I haven't any evidence that Ruskin was preditory so I'm not suggesting that anything untoward with these girls ever happened. Nevertheless, this is something that makes me feel uncomfortable about him.
Ruskin didn't seem to have much time for frivolities. He famously didn't like to dance whilst his young wife. Effie loved to do so and it seems that, when the Ruskins were in Venice, Effie often went to the local dances by herself accompanied by a male friend.
For the second series, part of this project, I have begun to look at people dancing. People from different cultural backgrounds dancing traditional dances. It is my way of restoring a side of Ruskin that I feel uneasy with but also a way to bring in joy and a lightness and less didactic.
I have also looked at national statistics and chosen people from cultures that are well represented in the UK - from Poland, Southern Ireland, India, China, The Carribean and so on.