Ruskin: Encouragingly Disgusted of Dulwich The Power of Seeing, Two Temple Place, London, January 26 – April 22
John Ruskin: Art & Wonder, Millennium Gallery, Sheffield, May 22 – September 15
There was an awkward moment at the V&A last September when Chris Smith, Lord Smith of Finsbury and the first Blair culture secretary, was delivering the Ruskin Foundation’s annual lecture. His grist was free admission for national museums and galleries which he had ushered in in 2001: ‘I’m afraid I find myself in opposition in one respect,’ he said. ‘Ruskin believed you should value art enough to be prepared to pay to see it.’
Well, yes. And emphatically no. And that is the problem with Ruskin. He won’t fit any convenient categories, and while he undoubtedly did think the well-off should pay to go into public galleries he also thought that not just the wealthy should have art in their lives.
So he made his own large collection of art and objects into a free museum for working people, an educational exhibition. And it was for the people of Sheffield that he gave it because he admired the devoted craftsmanship of steelworkers. It opened early and closed late, even on Sunday. ‘It was not meant for casual pottering on a nice day out, it was meant for workers to inspire creativity, but also just to make them happier,’ said Louise Pullen, curator of the collection and of this exhibition.
Ruskin was a spectrum of contradictions: a high Tory who was a social reformer, a deeply devout man and powerful preacher who loathed the church, a lover of classical architecture who abhorred the neo-classical,