John Ruskin was a prolific and influential writer on a wide range of subjects throughout much of the nineteenth century—he published his first article, on the coloration of the Rhine in a natural history journal, when he was just 15 years old, in 1835. He was keenly interested in art, and he regularly focused his attention, particularly early in his career, on the significance of British watercolors. The interest extended to painting. Ruskin took lessons while still a teenager with Copley Fielding, and later, in his last year at Oxford, studied with James Duffield Harding. The appeal, though, was not so much professional—he never sold his work—as it was academic. Ruskin, it seems, felt in constant need of accurately recording his visual experiences.
The small watercolors on view here have likely been culled from what must have been hundreds of sketchbooks in which Ruskin transcribed the myriad of subjects, from a single leaf to whole city blocks, that attracted his eye over the course of his travels. It’s been suggested, but yet to be confirmed, that Winter Scene may have been drawn during one of the artist’s many visits to the Lake District in northwest England.