Arthur Severn was the son of Joseph Severn, a painter and diplomat. He was not hugely successful as an artist but did exhibit his works professionally, including at the Royal Watercolour Society, and at the Royal Academy in London later in his career.
Severn was related to John Ruskin through his marriage to Joan Agnew, Ruskin’s younger cousin. As Ruskin’s closest relative and following Victorian conventions, Joan acted as Ruskin’s companion and nurse later in his life and therefore Severn lived with her at Brantwood, Ruskin’s home in the Lake District. Severn is not generally recognised as being of Ruskin’s assistants or a particular follower of Ruskin’s teaching, but he did carry out some ‘celebrity’ duties on behalf of Ruskin. This included attending the opening of the Ruskin Collection when it moved to Meersbrook Park, Sheffield in 1890.