John Ruskin intended that this eclectic collection, freely accessible to all, should be used as an inspiring and creative tool. He amassed the manuscripts, minerals, watercolours and drawings to reveal connections between nature and art, and to encourage the inventiveness of artists and craftspeople. Most importantly, he wanted it to open our eyes to beauty in the everyday world. Today, in the C21st, the collection he gave Sheffield remains open in the heart of the city, for free, for everyone.
For over 40 years, Ruskin travelled widely across Britain and Europe, seeking out beauty to observe, draw and write about. Closer to home though, England’s manufacturing cities expanded and became wealthy, whilst their workforces lived in poverty and grime. Workers had little to inspire them.
Ruskin set up the Guild of St George to counter this imbalance and founded a museum specifically for Sheffield’s workers, the first of what he intended would be a number of museums located near major industrial cities, but in fact the only one that came to fruition.
Sited at Walkley, just outside Sheffield city centre, visitors could escape the smoke that surrounded them and immerse themselves in nature and art. The Collection was later housed at Meersbrook Hall, and later still in the Ruskin Gallery in Norfolk Street, before finding a new home in Sheffield Museums Trust's Millennium Gallery. The permanent Ruskin Gallery there displays a changing selection from the collection each year. The Guild’s collection is cared-for and curated by Sheffield Museums Trust, and items from the collection are sometimes loaned to exhibitions around the world.
The collection is an eclectic mix that reflects Ruskin’s many interests. Early renaissance art, gothic architecture, Albrecht Dürer and JMW Turner’s engravings, mosaic decoration, Japanese cloisonné enameling, illustrations of birds, flowers, insects and landscapes all have their place. In addition, Ruskin added collections of geology and coins, and a library of illustrated books and medieval manuscripts. The Guild has since added to the collection with drawings and paintings, late Victorian photographs and pieces from the Ruskin Linen Industry.
Most of the drawings and watercolours in the collection were carried out by Ruskin’s assistants, who carefully copied paintings by Italian painters of the late 1400s and, made detailed records of gothic architecture and byzantine mosaic using pencil, watercolour and plaster cast. Other pieces come via Ruskin’s own collections of nature drawing, engraving and books. Few watercolours are by Ruskin himself, but everything he included was given with a set purpose to educate and inspire.
From the autumn of 2023, more than a thousand works from the Collection can be viewed online via the Sheffield Museums website. Browse a handful of items from the collection here.View all
Each year, there are changing displays in the permanent gallery to highlight particular strengths and themes within the Ruskin Collection and reflecting the wider issues and ideas of our time. Open free to all.View all
As well as the permanent gallery in Sheffield showing a changing selection from the collection, items are sometimes lent to exhibitions nationally and overseas. In 2019, major exhibitions from the Collection where shown in London and Sheffield in celebration of Ruskin's bicentenary.View all
In his public letters, published under the title Fors Clavigera, Ruskin wrote of his desire to make art, books and other cultural treasures available to everyone by means of a 'national store'.View all
Seven interns from Manchester Metropolitan University, working with Guild Master Rachel Dickinson in the summer of 2021, have explored the Guild's Ruskin Collection online, and come up with their own responses to what they discovered, guided by the brief to create something of interest for people between the ages of 16-24.View all