''If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the World.' So wrote John Ruskin in his book Modern Painters, in a chapter called 'On Leaf Beauty.'

John Ruskin's watercolour Withered Oak Leaves 1879
When a leaf is more than just a leaf: John Ruskin's watercolour Withered Oak Leaves 1879

Ruskin often made detailed studies of plants and felt that it was more instructive and revealing to start with the intricate details before tackling the whole. As he put it: ‘We cannot learn to paint leaves by painting trees full; nor grass by painting fields full. Learning to paint one leaf rightly is better than constructing a whole forest of leaf definitions.’

What do you think?



but a fresh young leaf,a fig leaf say ,that covered a ladies 'bits' Ruskin wouldn't have liked that ,would he,or rather what was under it.Imagine poor Ruskin confronted by Tracey Emin's ... erm ... poses !

Julie Ward

I have held leaves like this in my hand - as a child playing in the autumn and lately when gathering fallen leaves to use in creative projects. He paints it in all its crinkliness!

Jennifer Tetlow

I have to agree with Ruskin, how can you argue with this image. To know a leaf, you must get up close. Every curl and texture, every fibre and nuance must be known intimately and then it can be rendered at will.

Rosie Alcock

What an amazing painting. So simple and intricate.

mally Mehryar

I love the painting. For the comment (if you can paint a leaf...) I want to add painting of a dead leaf particularly as I see in this paiting is a task. I love image of aged leaves.


This is so beautiful, so familiar and timeless More so than a lot of paintings of nature. Not sure you can extrapolate from that that you are then better able to paint a tree, but the watercolours exhibition showed this in abundance, detail and sweeps of 'impressions' alongside each other.