Study of Rock, Moss and Ivy

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901). Watercolour and bodycolour on paper, 1885

This watercolour depicts a rock that Kate Greenaway found whilst visiting Ruskin at Brantwood, his home by Lake Coniston in the Lake District.

Ruskin had issued a challenge to Greenaway, saying 'She could draw pretty children daintily enough [...] but "she couldn't make a drawing of that rock"' (Works, 30, p. 239). She responded by producing this drawing.

The event is recorded in a letter to Joan Severn, Ruskin's cousin and nurse: 'Mr Ruskin proposed me to do the Piece of Rock and I said that I should like to - then I remember when I had begun it, he said "ah - many have begun it" - and I remember he wondered at the way I did it.'


Kate Greenaway was a popular children's book illustrator. She was the daughter of an engraver and trained at the Finsbury School of Art before attending the Slade School of Art.

Collection of the Guild of St George, Museums Sheffield
She specialized in drawings showing young children playing in idyllic settings, generally carried out in line drawing with basic colouring. By the 1880s, her illustrations were falling out of fashion.

Ruskin on Greenaway

Ruskin praised the naive, pre-industrial quality of Greenaway's work in a lecture called 'Fairy Land':

'There are no railroads in it to carry the children away with, are there? no tunnel or pit mouths to swallow them up [...] no vestige, in fact, of science, civilization, economical arrangements, or commercial enterprise!!!' (Works, 33, pp. 347).

Ruskin tried to steer Greenaway towards working from nature, rather than from the mind's eye. He sent her items from his garden to paint, such as turf and leaves.

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