In the Lake District for a few days, we decided to go to see Ruskin’s home (for the last 28 years of his life), Brantwood, where he lived with his cousin, Joan Severn, and her family. Having spent so much time reading Ruskin over the last couple of years, I was really excited about it, and it is amazing to see where he lived and died.
The house is on the shores of Coniston Water, so we went by boat from Coniston, arriving by the little harbour that Ruskin built himself (though now superseded by a small wooden jetty). After a lovely lunch in the cafe (Jumping Jenny’s – named after Ruskin’s boat) we went to explore the house, and it’s just fascinating. I have read Ruskin until I think like him, sometimes, so it’s amazing to see where this fascinating Victorian sage actually lived. He bought Brantwood to try to save his sanity when overwrought by the enormous pressures of his life, and the views (right) are enough to save anyone’s sanity, and their soul too. When I think of Ruskin’s writings on landscape, its power to lift one to the sublime, and its effect on mood and even morality, these landscapes make sense of such comments.
The house is filled with objects that belonged to him, which make his study especially interesting (imagine! I could stand in Ruskin’s study!) but I gather it’s much tidier now than when he was alive! The bedroom is especially poignant, with its little turret specially built for the views over the lake, and the narrow bed where, a little sign says, he lay awake, going mad, seeing demons dancing on the bedposts. It’s tragic, but in a fascinating way.
The paintings, objets d’art and even architecture of the house seem properly Ruskinian – for example, the colonnade in the dining room, which he added himself, and the pictures he collected for the house, as well as other items of furniture, and wallpaper which he designed for his study and drawing room. It’s impossible not to be moved by it – although I think the details of Ruskin’s life are not necessarily brought out by the house as a museum; a bit of prior reading goes a long way here.
For more information, Brantwood has an informative website.