In 1854, John Ruskin visited the Ladies Guild, where Octavia Hill was the young manager. He was already celebrated as the author of “Modern Painters”, originally written in defence of the controversial artist Turner.
From 1855-1865, Ruskin trained Octavia as an artist, to copy original works of art. One such painting is Bellini’s masterful The Doge Leonardo Loredan of 1501. The original is now in the National Gallery. Octavia’s copy is on display in the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield.
Octavia Hill judiciously placed articles about her work in influential magazines, drawing public attention to the appalling conditions of the times and promoting her methods of improving the quality of life of those in her charge. Some of these articles were later published as “Homes for the London Poor”.
The articles helped attract highly placed patrons, including Princess Alice, Queen Victoria’s second daughter, who had Octavia’s book translated into German.
Octavia Hill saw her whole life as an exercise on learning and teaching. She taught in the family private school, at the Working Men’s College and in later life, campaigned via public speeches, lectures and articles, whilst training her volunteers in housing management. A school report signed by all five sisters can be seen in the museum.