Western Façade of the Basilica of San Marco, Venice

John Wharlton Bunney (1828-1882). Oil on canvas, 1877-1882.

Bunney's painting of San Marco served as the centre-piece of the extended museum at Walkley.

It was commissioned by Ruskin for the fee of £500 and paid for partly by the St Mark's Fund (1879-1883) (established to protect the treasures of Venice from harmful restoration).

Cook and Wedderburn record that it measured 7 feet 7 inches wide, and 5 feet high, and that 'the artist spent upon it no less than six hundred days' constant labour' (Works, 10, p. lxiii).

The unusual level of detail captured by Bunney reflects the painting's intended function as an accurate architectural record.


John Bunney first encountered Ruskin in the 1850s, as a student at the Working Men's College in London. A brief biography is supplied by a fellow student called J. P. Emslie:

'The son of a merchant captain, Bunney had, when very young, made several voyages round the world. At an early age he took to drawing, but the death of his father compelled him to abandon art and apply himself to less attractive work. When I first joined the Drawing Class, he was engaged at a bookseller's, and was a hard-working student whose work was greatly admired by Ruskin.

Collection of the Guild of St George, Museums Sheffield
For a time his work was hard, but in 1858 he made a number of drawings in Derbyshire which so charmed Mr. Ruskin that he gave Bunney commissions to make drawings in Italy and in Switzerland' ( 'Recollections of Ruskin', The Working Men's College Journal, June 1908, x, p. 345).

Ruskin on Bunney

Ruskin valued Bunney's capacity for capturing detail, and had been especially impressed by him on a visit to Verona in 1869.

From there, Ruskin reported that 'I am getting on well with all my own work, and much pleased with some that Mr. Bunney is doing for me, so that really I expect to carry off a great deal of Verona' (Works, 19, p. l).

Having stationed Bunney in Venice for the purpose of 'catching' architectural detail, Ruskin suggested that his drawings 'will become of more value to their purchasers every year, as the buildings from which they are made are destroyed' (Works, 22, p. 476).

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