Ruskin’s leaves

Ruskin’s leaves

Our logo is adapted from Study of a Spray of Dead Oak Leaves, an 1879 watercolour by John Ruskin now in the Collection of the Guild of St George at Museums Sheffield. Ruskin – artist, critic, moralist, naturalist and visionary – was a cultural giant of the Victorian age, whose writing and activism vitally inspired the emerging conservation movement in both its historical and ecological strands. His essay ‘On Leaf Beauty’ (from Book V of his magnum opus Modern Painters) opens with a denouncement of civilisation’s assault on the natural world: ‘How have we ravaged the garden instead of kept it – feeding our war-horses with its flowers, and splintering its trees into spear-shafts!’ Yet the same passage also offers a vision of possible harmony between nature and humankind, in which the ‘infinite wonderfulness [of] vegetation’ takes on a role equivalent to that of architecture, as ‘the means by which the earth becomes the companion of man’. The dead leaves warn of a future in which that companionship has terminally withered; but they also form what Ruskin calls a ‘leaf monument’, wherein the rigidity of death bodies forth the hope of a new and fuller life.