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New exhibition at Sheffield's Millennium Gallery searches for true view of landscape
JMW Turner, Landscape with Water, about 1840-5. © Tate, London 2012.

SHEFFIELD.- The world around us, in all its contrasting power and fragility, continues to provide a ceaseless source of inspiration and wonder. A new exhibition at the Millennium Gallery takes the ideas of Victorian critic and scholar John Ruskin as a starting point to explore the diverse ways artists have chosen to represent their environment. Force of Nature: Picturing Ruskin’s Landscape sees paintings by JMW Turner, George Frederick Watts and the Pre-Raphaelites go on show alongside work by contemporary artists, including Julian Opie, Kathy Prendergast and George Shaw.

The depiction of the landscape in art proved an ongoing preoccupation for John Ruskin (1819-1900). While his belief that artists must reflect and record their environment was unwavering, Ruskin’s view on how to best capture the ‘truth’ of a vista or scene was to go through a radical shift in later life. Force of Nature brings together a host of historical and contemporary work, using the evolution of Ruskin’s ideas as a basis to examine how artists have adopted different approaches to portraying the landscape.

Curated by Museums Sheffield, Force of Nature comprises three sections, each taking inspiration from the developments in Ruskin’s thinking; The Mountain in Miniature looks at the genesis of Ruskin’s ideas, observing parallels between patterns in small geological forms and those in the broader landscape; Seeing the Landscape takes its focus from Ruskin’s initial belief in realistic, visually accurate representation; finally, Sensing the Landscape looks at how Turner prompted Ruskin to revise his opinions and explores the importance of conveying our emotional response to the landscape.

Force of Nature features works largely drawn from Sheffield’s own collections, complemented by a series of significant national loans from collections including those of Tate, the V&A and the Arts Council. Amongst the range of works on display are JMW Turner’s Landscape with Water (1840-5), William Holman Hunt’s The Sphinx, Giza, Looking Towards the Pyramids of Saqqara (1856) and Llyn-y-Cau, Cader Idris (c1774) by Richard Wilson, as well as examples of Ruskin’s own topographical studies. Shown alongside them are contemporary responses to landscape, including Julian Opie’s Jet stream. (2011), Carol Rhodes’ Surface Mine (2009-11) and Dan Holdsworth’s Andoya (2006). The exhibition also features several Sheffield-themed works exploring the city’s own geography.

Force of Nature: Picturing Ruskin’s Landscape is on view at the Millennium Gallery until 23 June 2013 – entry is free.

Most famous as an art critic and artist, John Ruskin (1819-1900) was one of the most influential men of the Victorian era and one of the greatest celebrities of the 1800s. A writer and lecturer who crossed the fields of science and political economy, Ruskin was seen as the foremost art critic of the time. He published and lectured widely in a dogmatic and flamboyant style that brought him enormous fame. Later in life, he came to see art as an outward symbol of a society’s moral state and wrote extensively on social politics. His writings were hugely influential to thinkers such as Ghandi and Proust, and led to the formation of the National Trust and the Labour Party.
The Ruskin Collection, owned by the Guild of St George and housed at Museums Sheffield’s Millennium Gallery, brings together the lifelong passion of a man inspired by the beauty that surrounded him. In the industrial, polluted streets of Victorian Sheffield, Ruskin saw few sources of inspiration in the urban sprawl, and brought the collection to the city to celebrate “what is lovely in the life of nature and heroic in the life of men”. The collection includes visual art, decorative art, natural history specimens and manuscripts from throughout the 1800s, as well works dating from as early as the 10th century through to the present day.

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