Near Coniston Water in England’s Lake District, the historic house and gardens at Brantwood offer contemporary visitors a fascinating insight into the world of writer, artist and social reformer John Ruskin (1819 – 1900), who spent the latter part of his life there. Retaining the character of its famous resident, the house is filled with fine paintings, beautiful furniture and Ruskin’s personal treasures, with displays and activities there and in the gardens and estate reflecting Ruskin’s unique legacy to British life, from the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts Movement to the founding of the National Trust and the Welfare State.
Ruskin’s Reverie is the culmination of artist Kate Bentley‘s residency at Brantwood, where she spent 19 months (September 2018 – April 2021) experimenting with contemporary media, photography, 3D and other techniques, in a move away from her erstwhile landscape influences. Taking Ruskin’s connection to the Pre-Raphaelites and J M W Turner as a starting point, once settled into the residency she was spurred by photographs she took of the house’s interior – reflections in the windows, display cases and the glass of the paintings. Fascinated by this, she developed the concept of using reflections to represent layers of Ruskin’s life, in painting, literature, nature, architecture, philanthropy and relationships. His collection of artefacts such as chairs made its way into the work – a reminder of his personal presence once, and a motif to represent Ruskin’s life, work, and legacy. Brantwood’s loan of a collection of Turner originals from The Tate was an additional influence. Reflecting on the whole experience, Kate says it has acted as springboard ‘to explore innovative areas of the visual arts, including printmaking, photography, and digital projection’.