John Ruskin - Later Life (1869–1900) - Brantwood


In August 1871, Ruskin purchased from W. J. Linton the then somewhat dilapidated Brantwood, on the shores of Coniston Water, in the English Lake District, paying £1500. It remains open to visitors today. It was Ruskin’s main home from 1872. His estate provided a site for more of his practical schemes and experiments: an ice house was built, the gardens were comprehensively rearranged, he oversaw the construction of a larger harbour (from where he rowed his boat, the Jumping Jenny), and altered the house (adding a dining room, turret to his bedroom to give a panoramic view of the lake, and later expanding further to accommodate his relatives). He built a reservoir, and redirected the waterfall down the hills, adding a slate seat that faced the tumbling stream rather than the lake, so that he could closely observe the fauna and flora of the hillside.

Although Ruskin’s 80th birthday was widely celebrated in 1899 (various Ruskin societies presenting him with a congratulatory address), Ruskin was scarcely aware of it. He died at Brantwood from influenza on 20 January 1900 at the age of 80. He was buried five days later in the churchyard at Coniston, according to his wishes. As he had grown weaker, suffering prolonged bouts of mental illness, he had been looked after by his second cousin, Joan(na) Severn (formerly “companion” to Ruskin’s mother) and she inherited his estate. “Joanna’s Care” was the eloquent final chapter of his memoir which he dedicated to her as a fitting tribute.

Joan Severn, together with Ruskin’s secretary, W. G. Collingwood, and his eminent American friend, Charles Eliot Norton, were executors to his Will. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn edited the monumental 39-volume Library Edition of Ruskin’s Works, the last volume of which, an index, attempts to articulate the complex interconnectedness of Ruskin’s thought. They all acted together to guard, and even control, Ruskin’s public and personal reputation.

The centenary of Ruskin’s birth was keenly celebrated in 1919, but his reputation was already in decline and sank further in the fifty years that followed. The contents of Ruskin’s home were dispersed in a series of sales at auction, and Brantwood itself was bought in 1932 by the educationist and Ruskin enthusiast, collector and memorialist, John Howard Whitehouse. In 1934, it was opened to the public as a permanent memorial to Ruskin.

Read more about this topic:  John Ruskin, Later Life (1869–1900)

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