Many of the books in Special Collections have fascinating ownership histories, as we highlight in our current foyer display. But, curiouser and curiouser, no sooner have we announced our latest display, than we’ve identified another work with an interesting provenance!
The work in question is a five volume set of John Ruskin’s remarkable Modern Painters, with the autograph of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson on each title-page. Dodgson, using his pen name Lewis Carroll, wrote the children’s classic Alice’s adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there.
Dodgson was a friend of Modern Painters’ author, John Ruskin, one of the most celebrated art critics of the nineteenth century. Both were fellows of Christ’s Church College, Oxford, where Dodgson was employed as a maths lecturer – a role at which he excelled. However, in addition to maths, Dodgson also held a strong interest in the arts; he wrote poetry and fiction, enjoyed illustrating his work, and was even a keen follower of the recently invented art of photography. The original version of Alice’s adventures was actually illustrated by the author himself but, perhaps due to Ruskin criticising his artistic talents, Dodgson instead chose the illustrator of Punch magazine, John Tenniel, to create the final artwork.
John Ruskin was one of the most important artistic figures of the Victorian age. His ideas on what art should and should not be were instrumental in driving the Gothic Revival, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement. Modern painters, along with The Stones of Venice were arguably his most influential works.
To view a few more Special Collections volumes with famous past owners, pop up to Level 12 of the Library and have a look at our display case.