John Ruskin

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John Ruskin

John Ruskin (born February 8, 1819 in London , † January 20, 1900 in Brantwood, Lake District in Cumbria ) was a British writer, painter, art historian and social philosopher .


John Ruskin 1857, drawn by George Richmond

Ruskin was the only child of the wealthy sherry importer John James Ruskin and his wife Margaret, b. Cox. When John was born in 1819, his parents were nearly forty years old. They were Calvinists , and his mother wanted John to serve the Church one day.

His parents took him and his nanny on their business trips, during which they acquired orders for their sherry sales. They also visited castles, cathedrals, ruins of monasteries, colleges, parks, country houses and galleries. At the age of five, John Ruskin accompanied his parents to Keswick in northern England and at the age of six to business partners in Paris ; during this trip they also visited Brussels and Waterloo . At the age of fourteen he drove with them along the Rhine, through the Black Forest via Schaffhausen and into Switzerland ; this is where his lifelong love for the Alps flared up. In 1823 his parents moved into a house built in 1801 at 28 Herne Hill. In 1828 the Ruskins took John's cousin Perth, whose mother Mary Richardson had died, as a foster daughter. In October 1842 they bought 163 Denmark Hill in a posh neighborhood where the other families had carriages and servants in livery . However, his parents continued to live simply.

According to his memoir Praeterita , Ruskin taught himself to read and write by copying from books when he was four to five years old, "just as other children paint dogs and horses". His father read to him on Sundays with great empathy from Robinson Crusoe and The Pilgrim's Progress and later works by Shakespeare , Byron , Cervantes and Pope , which made a lasting impression on the boy. He was tutored by private tutors until he was twelve years old. In 1836 - accompanied by his mother - he began to study in Oxford with no particular pleasure , where he received the Oxford Newdigate Prize for poetry in 1839. The geologist and theologian William Buckland was his teacher and mentor. In 1840 he fell ill with tuberculosis and his parents traveled with him to Venice and Rome for six months . (Other sources speak of a nervous breakdown because his first love Adèle Domecq had married a French count.) In 1842 he finished his studies.


His first major work, a multi-volume history of modern painting - original title "Modern Painters" - he published in the years from 1843 to 1860. With this work he became the discoverer and patron of the painter William Turner , of whom the Ruskins owned several paintings . Here Ruskin, who was always a precise observer and himself a draftsman of nature, condemns, among other things, Claude Lorrain's landscape painting , because it is precisely this that does not truly depict nature.

In the increasing industrialization he saw the danger of crippling both human virtues and artistic creativity. He advocated a business ethic in which the human being should be the focus and manual work should be viewed as a creative value. Ruskin founded the St. George's Guild to use his utopian ideas to change the decline of the British state. The guild consisted of men who were willing to put part of their income into buying land and shaping it in accordance with Ruskin's ideals. “We will have a little piece of English soil, beautiful, calm and fertile. We won't have steam engines on it and no railroad ”.

In his ideas on social reform, he submitted numerous concrete proposals, such as B. Garden cities and workers' colleges . As a painter and draftsman, Ruskin made an appearance primarily through depictions of architecture and landscape studies.

Along with William Morris , Walter Crane and Dante Gabriel Rossetti , Ruskin was one of the most important members of the Arts and Crafts Movement . Pierre de Coubertin , the founder of the modern Olympic Games , was a late but enthusiastic supporter of Ruskin. He put a lot of effort into embellishing the games (he wrote ruskiniser ) so that they would have a unique character and be more than a sum of different world championships in one place.

Ruskin's notes for his book The Stones of Venice

In two letters to the Times in 1851, he had shortly after the "scandal", the Pre-Raphaelites defended without time to know personally. He compared her new, precise style of painting with that of his revered Dürer (Truth of nature) . As a result, the Pre-Raphaelites were judged somewhat milder in public. This resulted in a difficult friendship with Rossetti and Millais , which took on dramatic forms. Ruskin's wife ( Effie Gray ) divorced him to marry Millais. Even so, Ruskin continued to write very positively about Millais. He had a warm friendship with all the Pre-Raphaelites, except for Ford Madox Brown , who had a grumpy character and whose failure was probably also due to Ruskin's rejection.

With The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and the three-volume, published in London in 1851 book The Stones of Venice (dt. The Stones of Venice ) made Ruskin important contributions to architectural theory . In his collection of essays, The Seven Lamps of Architecture , Ruskin describes in an almost poetic form the foundations of architecture from his point of view : sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, life, memory and obedience. He thus sets out criteria for the quality of and the handling of architecture and thus has a significant influence on English architecture.

The Stones of Venice is characterized by an idealized portrayal, in particular of the Gothic in Venice and its accompanying social circumstances. An attempt is made to characterize Gothic on the basis of six characteristics: 1. rawness, 2. changeability, variety, 3. naturalism, 4. sense of the grotesque, 5. rigidity, 6. overabundance. In addition, the Stones contain precise representations and descriptions of Venetian architecture and painting (especially by Tintoretto ), both in the text and in the picture , which are of great interest for architectural historical analyzes to this day.

1860 was first in the Cornhill Magazine, later in the form of a book essays Unto This Last (dt. This last ) published Ruskin's best-known social critique. In it he criticized both capitalism , which in his opinion was based on enriching oneself at the expense of others, and Marxism , for which he observed that a conflict of interests should not necessarily be equated with antagonism . The book influenced Mahatma Gandhi , among others, and is still received today in the movement critical of capitalism and growth .

Ruskin significantly shaped the theory and practice of monument preservation . As in non-idealized representations of Venetian architecture in the Stones accepted Ruskin is recognized, the monument in its entirety, including surviving the patina and therefore called for preservation of monuments. This is in contrast to the restoration work that was widespread in the 19th century , the most important exponent of which was Eugène Viollet-le-Duc and which, particularly in France, restored medieval buildings in forms that in no way had to correspond to the original inventory.

Self-portrait, 1875

When Felix Slade died in 1868, he bequeathed his collection to the university in addition to his collection £ 35,000 for a chair in the fine arts, which enabled Ruskin's appointment as professor. In 1870 he was appointed the first professor of art (Slade Professor of Fine Art) at Oxford University.

From 1869 John Ruskin taught art history in Oxford . As a multi-faceted art historian and as a social reformer , he held an important position in English social life in the second half of the 19th century. In many writings he described the gospel of beauty, by which he understood a fusion of art, politics and economics, which should be based on the ideal of medieval art.

In 1871 Ruskin set up a drawing school in Oxford, which was intended for ordinary men and women who, by taking part in these courses, “could see more beauty than before in nature and art and thus gain more joy in life”. It offered participants the opportunity to learn basic knowledge of the techniques - outline, shading, coloring - and both copying works of art and painting from nature.

In 1877, James McNeill Whistler sued Ruskin for libel and defamation. He had said in a newspaper article about the painting Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket exhibited in the Grosvenor Gallery that Whistler had not only dared to throw a pot of paint in the face of the public, but had also had the cheek to do it to ask for two hundred guineas . Whistler won the case in the London High Court in 1878 , but was awarded only symbolic damages from a farthing . The consequences were devastating for Whistler.

Ruskin's grave

In 1878 Ruskin was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . For fifty years, Ruskin gave lectures, wrote and spoke about mountains, rivers and lakes, cathedrals and landscapes, geology and minerals , architecture, paintings, sculpture, music, drawing, political economy, education, poetry, literature, history, mythology, Socialism, theology and ethics.

His father died in 1864, leaving him his fortune. With that he bought the house in Br Answer in the Lake District from W. J. Linton, where he lived until his death. After his mother's death in 1871, he sold Denmark Hill, which was still run as the Ruskin Manor Hotel and was demolished in 1949. Opened in 1907, Ruskin Park in London, which stretches between Loughborough Junction ( Brixton ) and Denmark Hill, is named after John Ruskin.

Ruskin was buried in the cemetery of St. Andrews Church in Coniston . His grave is adorned with a large cross designed by William Gershom Collingwood and carved by H. T. Miles. It is made from green slate from the nearby Tilberthwaite quarry.

In 2005, Anglia Ruskin University was named after him.

Ruskin and William Turner

Ruskin's bedroom in Brantwood surrounded by his Turner collection

On his 13th birthday, Ruskin received the Turner and Stothard illustrated edition of Samuel Rogers Italy, a Poem . The following year he and his father attended the Royal Academy exhibition of William Turner's oil paintings. In 1837 his father gave him Turner's watercolor Richmond Hill and Bridge, Surrey as a birthday present, the first of many he would one day own. In 1840 Ruskin visited Turner in his own gallery and a friendship developed. In 1844 his father gave him another gymnast, this time an oil painting: The slave ship . On February 8, 1845 - Ruskin's birthday - Turner is invited by the family to Denmark Hill for dinner. One day, as Ruskin describes it, Turner came to me with a bundle under his arm that was wrapped in dirty brown paper. It contained all the drawings for his series "The Rivers of France". "You can have the whole series, John, undivided, for 25 guineas each". Because his father thought he'd really like her, he bought 17 of Hannah Cooper's published drawings in 1858 for 1,000 guineas. Turner supervised the printing of his stitches and made it a point to work out a multiple of black and white tones. Ruskin thought Turner's "Rivers of France" series was the best. In 1847 his father bought the oil painting The Grand Canal, Venice for an already extraordinary price of 800 guineas.

In May 1861, Ruskin donated 25 watercolors and drawings by William Turner to the University of Cambridge . He stressed that it was a "less extensive" series that he had chosen to portray Turner's work at different times in his life. "The market value will not currently exceed £ 1,400, but I feel that they can be useful as a reference and occasional example for younger students wishing to study English art and drawing." The images are now on view at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Ruskin's bust by Conrad Dressler
John Ruskin, 1882

In the same year he had given the University of Oxford , where he studied from 1837 to 1841, 48 watercolors and a twelve-page sketchbook by Turner - much to the annoyance of his father. In 1875 he donated more watercolors to the University of Oxford. They are now in the holdings of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Even after his father's death in 1864, Ruskin continued to buy Turner's paintings. In 1869 he paid 1,200 guineas for Scene in the Savoy (Italy in the olden time approx. 1815-1820). In 1877 he acquired some watercolors from the estate of Hugh Munro of Novar (1797–1864), Turner's friend and a great collector. The Ruskins' collection included more works by Turner than those of Walter Fawkes (1769-1825), one of Turner's earliest patrons, Benjamin Windus (1790-1867) and Hugh Munro.

In April 1869 and again in 1882, however, he sold a few watercolors through the Christie's auction house . In 1872 he sold the two paintings The Slave Ship and Grand Canal . He only kept his favorite watercolors for himself - over 20 pieces that he had hanging in Brantwood.

In 1878 Ruskin exhibited his Turner pictures at the invitation of Marcus Huish (1843–1921), director of the Fine Art Society , in the Society's rooms. The collection consisted of 120 works.

First sorting of the Turner donation

William Turner had died in 1851 and, among other people, had also named John Ruskin as his executor, which Ruskin refused. After the dispute over Turner's will was settled by court ruling in 1856, Ruskin agreed, at the request of the government, to sort through the estate, which contained around 19,000 drawings (including the sketchbooks and beginnings in watercolors). He divided the work into three main categories: for immediate exhibition, for exhibitions in the provinces, and drawings that, in Ruskin's opinion, were too weak to be exhibited at all. To make room, a first selection of 102 works was made for an exhibition at Marlborough House at the end of January . That was the beginning of traveling exhibitions and loans that circulated from 1869 to the 20th century.

Ruskin could now operate at his own discretion, and he was not afraid to take Turner's sketchbooks apart if, in his opinion, they fit thematically to his selection. However, he was horrified when he came across Turner's erotic drawings. Together with the keeper of the National Gallery, Mr. Ralph Wornum (1812–1877), he was of the opinion that the possession of such drawings was illegal, and has also admitted to having burned "a package". Ruskin packed the drawings in zinc boxes and named them from "rubbish" (crap) to "horrible" (terrible). In 1905, the National Gallery found that the boxes, named by category, contained sheets of more than 150 sketchbooks, each approximately 100 pages long.

Ruskin recommended that the drawings be displayed in showcases and that the majority of the drawings should be bound and therefore not exposed to light. In May 1858 he finished his work.

Private life

Effie Gray, 1860

On April 10, 1848, John Ruskin married Euphemia "Effie" Chalmers Gray in her parents' living room. Ruskin's parents weren't there. They first lived in his parents' house in Denmark Hill and then lived in Venice for two years. Here - far from the nagging of Ruskin's mother - she turned the heads of Austrian officers while Ruskin studied the buildings of Venice. After their return they moved into their own house in No 30 Herne Hill.

In 1853, Millais asked Ruskin to have his wife, Effie, model for him. Ruskin was flattered and agreed. The resulting image was called The Order of Release (The release order) was at the show a great success. Since Ruskin's father wanted a portrait of him that he would also pay for, Ruskin commissioned Millais, the head of the Pre-Raphaelites , for whose avant-garde movement he campaigned. Accompanied by his wife Effie, Ruskin rented a small house in Glenfinlas, Scotland, in 1854. While Millais waited for his canvas to arrive, he gave Effie drawing lessons and they fell in love. Ruskin was an introverted and extraordinarily eccentric person who, unfamiliar with the conventions of human interaction, unwittingly encouraged the couple. During the four month stay, Effie confided to Millais how unhappy she was in her marriage.

Her friend Lady Elizabeth Eastlake eventually persuaded Effie to inform her parents of the state of their marriage. Effie wrote to her father: “He used various reasons, hatred of children, religious motives, the desire to maintain my beauty and finally, this year he told me the real reason [...] that he had imagined women to be quite different looked like what he saw in me, and that was the reason why he did not take me as his wife, because [he] was disgusted with my person… ”From this it was interpreted that Ruskin thought women more like the sculptures in the Glyptotheken had imagined, but not with pubic hair and menstruation. Divorce was out of the question because it could only be decided by law in parliament, and that was expensive. Separation was the best that Effie could hope for at first. In the meantime, the father, a lawyer, was preparing the divorce papers. Effie had to undergo a medical examination that proved she was still a virgin and that the marriage had never been consummated.

Ruskin was unaware of his wife's plans for a divorce. Two lawyers visited the family and presented the allegation to him along with a package containing Effie's keys, her wedding ring, and a letter explaining her conduct. With Effie's consent, Lady Eastlake, the wife of the director of the National Gallery , let out small piquants that left no doubt that Ruskin was the culprit in the breakup. On June 20, 1854, Effie received a letter stating that her marriage had been annulled on the basis of Ruskin's "incurable impotency". Ruskin did not hide. He even insisted that Millais finish the portrait begun in Scotland, which Millais found embarrassing. Effie waited seven months before marrying Millais in July 1855.

The marriage proposal to Rose La Touche

Ruskin's drawing by Rose La Touche

Since 1858 Ruskin gave drawing lessons to nine-year-old Rose La Touche (1848–1875) and her two brothers. He developed a close relationship with Rose and they were in constant correspondence. In it he called "Rosie, pet and Rosie puss" and he was her "St Crumpet". Ruskin was often invited to her large house in Harristown, Ireland. Mrs. La Touche was also fond of Ruskin. The family spent the winter months in London. When Rose was 18 years old - Ruskin was almost 50 - he asked for her hand. Rose was a sickly woman and deeply religious. The parents are said to have asked Effie Millais what she thought of a marriage. The answer was "better not". Ruskin's request was denied that he should ask her again when she was 21. The mother could not get Rose to end her friendship with Ruskin. Over several years he repeated his marriage proposal, which she finally rejected in 1872. Rose became mentally confused, spending her final years in a nursing home where she died in 1875 at the age of 27. Ruskin was heartbroken. He retired to Brantwood, which he bought in 1871, and suffered several nervous breakdowns. In spiritualistic sessions he tried to make contact with the dead.

The friendship with Kate Greenaway

When the two met in 1882, Ruskin was sixty-three and Kate Greenaway was thirty-six. Ruskin admired them. From then on, he oversaw her work as a painter and dominated her life. They met frequently, either in Brantwood or Hampstead. He admired the childlike innocence of women and the way in which Kate portrayed her "girlies". Kate was fascinated by him. They spoke baby talk to each other, he was her "darling Dinie," and she signed her letters with different numbers of kisses depending on her mood. The relationship was purely platonic, but her devotion to him survived his bad mood, fits of madness, and eventually senility, and lasted until his death in 1900.

Works (selection in German)


Web links

Commons : John Ruskin  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: John Ruskin  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. The house was demolished in the 1920s. Ruskin describes the garden of the house in the 2nd chapter of Praeterita ( Herne-Hill Almond Blossoms / Herne Hill Almond Blossoms ).
  2. Ruskin's parents' house “Denmark Hill” (garden side).
  3. ^ The Code of the Guild of St. George
  4. ^ Working Men's College
  5. Arnd Krüger . 'The masses are much more sensitive to the perfection of the whole than to any separate details': The Influence of John Ruskin's Political Economy on Pierre de Coubertin, in: Olympika, 5 (1996) pp. 25-44. [1] ; Arnd Kruger . Coubertin's Ruskianism, in: RK BARNEY u. a. (Ed.): Olympic Perspectives. 3rd International Symposium for Olympic Research. London, Ont .: University of Western Ontario 1996, pp. 31 - 42. [2]
  6. John Ruskin: Unto This Last . Digireads, 2005, ISBN 1-4209-2596-2 , pp. 6 and 23 .
  7. Heimo Rau: Gandhi . 29th edition. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-499-50172-4 .
  8. E.g. David Boyle, Andrew Simms: The New Economics: A Bigger Picture . Earthscan , London, Sterling (VA) 2009, ISBN 978-1-84407-675-8 .
  9. Slade Professor in Oxford (PDF; 305 kB)
  10. ^ The Art of England. Lectures given in Oxford During his second tenure of the Slade Professorship by John Ruskin . Lecture 1 - Realistic school of Painting. (D. G. Rossetti and Holman Hunt) Publisher: George Allen, London 1883.
  11. Ruskin's drawing school ( Memento of the original from February 21, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  12. ^ Books by John Ruskin in the Gutenberg project
  13. Brantwood Photos
  14. ^ Ruskin's grave cross in the St. Adrews Church cemetery in Coniston
  15. ^ Samuel Rogers: Italy, a Poem . Illustrated by William Turner and Thomas Stothard. Published by T. Cadell and Moxon, 1830
  16. ^ Slave Ship in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
  17. ^ Turner Chronology
  18. Complete JMWT French Rivers 61 Engravings & Proofs ( Memento of the original from March 27, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. - Sale at the Turner Museum @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  19. Turner's pictures from his visit to Venice in 1840
  20. Turner in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge ( Memento of the original from February 7, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  21. Ruskins Turner in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford ( Memento of the original from February 21, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  22. ^ Ruskin's Turner
  23. Notes by Mr. Ruskin. Part I on the drawings by the late JMW Turner. Part II on his own handiwork illustrative of Turner . The above being exhibited at The Fines Art Society's Gallery, 148 New Bond Street, 1878.
  24. ^ John Ruskin: Notes on the Turner gallery at Marlborough house: 1856-7 Publisher: Smith, Elder & Co., London 1857.
  25. The Foxglove , drawing by Effie Chalmers Ruskin in the Leicester Galleries.
  26. Morbid love. Illustration in The Guardian , February 12, 2005.
  27. ^ MH Spielmann and GS Layard: Kate Greenaway, Chapter VIII, Letter from Ruskin . Adam and Charles Black, London 1905.