Imagination and Reality: the Art of arthur Ransome
Imagination and Reality: the Art of Arthur Ransome was our first temporary exhibition. It took place from 19 May to 4 September, 2011, in the Blue Gallery at Brantwood, John Ruskin’s former home, beside Coniston Water.
The exhibition was held in partnership with The Brantwood Trust, for whom it formed part of their ongoing studies of landscape, and the way that this is depicted in literature and art. The exhibition was supported by the Lakeland Arts Trust and the Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds Library.
Imagination and Reality explored Arthur Ransome’s approach to book illustration, specifically in his twelve Swallows and Amazons novels. Ransome rejected the illustrations prepared by the professional artist Steven Spurrier for Swallows and Amazons, and was dissatisfied with those provided by his replacement Clifford Webb for both Swallows and Amazons and Swallowdale.
Both were fine artists, but Ransome had very different views about the purpose of illustrations in children’s books. He wasn’t interested in mere adornments that broke up blocks of text. Nor did he want artistic interpretations of his narrative, characters and landscapes. Instead he sought something akin to engineering plans, where accuracy and relevance were the primary yardsticks.
The exhibition looked at Ransome’s theories and techniques by directly comparing work by Spurrier, Webb and Ransome, in particular “The Lighthouse Tree”, the only scene drawn by all three artists. It then displayed a selection of Ransome’s orignal pen and ink illustrations, focussing on his work as artist, dramatist and scene-setter.
Ransome often worked from photographs via pencil sketches. The exhibition included examples of these, along with a selection of personal artefacts and correspondence.
The exhibiton was accompanied by a series of Camp Fires public talks and events at Brantwood and Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, which included: The Lake in the North (lecture by Christina Hardyment); The Homing Stone and Old Peter (dramatic performance by Hugh Lupton); Ransome’s Foreign Legion (lecture by Robert Thompson); Secret Water (lecture by Roland Chambers); The Collingwoods, Coniston and Ransome (lecture by Vicky Slowe), and Imagination and Reality: Arthur Ransome’s Maps (a lake expedition and seminar with speakers Jim Andrews, Paul Flint and Geraint Lewis).
The exhibition could not have taken place without the help of many people, including: The Brantwood Trust, who hosted and partnered ART in this exhibition and lecture series; The Lakeland Arts Trust, who supported the exhibition with the generous loan of Arthur Ransome’s sketchbooks and other artefacts from the Museum of Lakeland Life, Kendal, and hosted Roland Chambers’ talk; The Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds Library, who likewise supported the exhibition with the loan of original artwork from their archives; the Ruskin Library, Lancaster, who prepared the artwork for display, and the Arthur Ransome Literary Estate and Random House UK, Ltd, who gave permission for the use of extracts from Arthur Ransome’s works in the Exhibition Notes and publicity.