The Ruskin Library, Bailrigg, United Kingdom

The Ruskin Library is a library of the University of Lancaster which houses the Whitehouse Collection of material relating to the English poet, author and artist John Ruskin and his circle. This collection was formed by John Howard Whitehouse, Liberal Member of Parliament.

Designed by Sir Richard MacCormac of MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, it was opened in 1998 by HRH Princess Alexandra, The Hon Lady Ogilvy. It subsequently won the Independent on Sunday Building of the Year Award 1996, the Royal Fine Art Commission/BSkyB Building of the Year University Winner 1998, and Millennium Products status awarded by the Design Council in 1999.

The Ruskin Library houses the Whitehouse Collection, the single largest collection of Ruskin material in the world. Formed by John Howard Whitehouse (1873-1955), educationalist, Liberal Member of Parliament and former Secretary of the Ruskin Society of Birmingham, it is now the responsibility of the Ruskin Foundation and housed at Lancaster University.

As well as over 2000 pictures by John Ruskin and his associates, the collection contains 29 volumes of Ruskin’s Diaries and over 8000 manuscripts, including many unpublished letters. As well as a comprehensive holding of books by and about Ruskin, there are 350 books from his library.

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The building, itself work of art, was designed in 1995 by Sir Richard Mac Cormac to reflect Ruskin’s fascination with Venice and Tuscany. Surrounded by meadow and reached by a causeway it is a metaphor for Ruskin’s Venice. The interior contrasts with the stark exterior, with ochre walls and exposed timber beams, and a ‘Treasury’ rising through the full height of the building, encased in an oak frame with panels of red Venetian plaster.

The library contains 29 volumes of Ruskin’s Diaries spanning the years 1835 to 1888. Many of these are unpublished. The library also contains approximately 7,400 letters, including 3,000 letters with his cousin Joan Severn and others such as Thomas Carlyle, Robert Browning and his publisher George Allen.

There are approximately 350 books from Ruskin’s own personal library as well as 39 volumes of his published writings in various languages.

There is a selection of 1,500 drawings and 500 prints in the collection of which 950 are by Ruskin. Other artists include Samuel Prout, Francesca Alexander and Albert Goodwin. These prints are examples of Ruskin’s interest in landscape and architecture, but there are also many nature studies, copies of Old Master paintings, and intimate portraits. There is a large number of photographs that contain 140 from Ruskin’s collection with an important group of 125 daguerreotypes, mostly of Gothic architecture, made under his direction.

Our gallery space hosts a changing series of exhibitions of Ruskin’s work and that of his contemporaries, usually drawn from the collection. The Reading Room on the ground floor is open to those engaged in research on Ruskin and related subjects.

The library is open to the public, although only a small part of the collection is on public display at any one time. Please be aware that the pictures seen in ‘Street View’ are not on permanent display and may not be available to view when you visit.