BRANTWOOD has started 2014 in fine style with, not one, but two striking new exhibitions.

On show at the former Coniston home of John Ruskin are Tails of Cumbria, an exhibition of paintings by Jo McGrath, and Vital Beauty: The Art of Thomas Matthews Rooke, who was a pivotal figure in the Arts and Crafts movement.

Running at Brantwood’s Severn Studio until March 9, Tails of Cumbria is Jo’s first solo exhibition and features her favourite theme – farm animals.

Jo prefers to draw the animals she is most familiar with - animals she knows the feel and smell and sound and behaviour of. As a subject for drawing, the animal kingdom is an inexhaustible inspiration. Subjects of every conceivable shape, size and colour. But despite the magnificence of the big cats and the splendour of tropical birdlife, Jo finds capturing the familiarity of horses, dogs and domestic livestock the most exciting and rewarding of all!

“All my life I’ve loved animals, and for much of my life I’ve worked with them,” explains Jo. “So it’s no surprise I’ve ended up drawing them too.“ After an early career in conservation and farming, Jo settled down in Cumbria and became a full time animal artist based at Broughton-in-Furness. Her work is fun and bold, as well as moody and atmospheric.

Elsewhere in Brantwood’s Blue Gallery is Vital Beauty: The Art of Thomas Matthews Rooke 1842-1942.

T M Rooke was Edward Burne-Jones’s studio assistant, but also an accomplished painter in his own right. He exhibited large oils of religious subjects at the Royal Academy from 1876 onwards and also showed work at the Grosvenor Gallery and New Gallery; King Ahab’s Coveting (1879) is in the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery, Bournemouth and Dancing Girls (1882) in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. He was a member of the Art Workers’ Guild and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. Arguably the last survivor of the late Pre-Raphaelite generation, he died at the age of 99 in 1942.

He was ‘borrowed’ by Ruskin in 1879 to carry out copies of the mosaics of St Mark’s, Venice, which were then threatened with destruction by insensitive restoration, and between 1884 and 1887 he undertook further work in Venice, Ravenna, Chartres and Switzerland, recording buildings and places either beloved of Ruskin or never visited by him. Ruskin was delighted with the “glorious drawings” he produced for the Guild of St George Museum at Sheffield.

John Howard Whitehouse, who established the trust which owns Brantwood and who built the collection now in the care of the Ruskin Foundation, knew and corresponded with Rooke, and some years after the artist’s death was offered a choice of watercolours from the family’s collection. Nineteen examples were acquired in 1950 and shown at a commemorative exhibition at the Royal Institute of British Architects in May 1951. They remain in the care of the foundation and nearly all of which are included in this exhibition.

The Severn Studio and Blue Gallery are open Wednesday to Sunday, from 10.30am-4pm and admission is included in the house or garden ticket.

Telephone 015394-41396.