Lines and Colors art blog

The Elements of Drawing: John Ruskin’s Teaching Collection at Oxford

The Elements of Drawing: John Ruskin's Teaching Collection at Oxford - John Ruskin, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Samuel Prout, JMW Turner
I’m most familiar with Victorian writer, art critic, draftsman and watercolorist John Ruskin for his critical defense of the fledgling Pre-Raphaelite group of painters, vital at a time when their ideas and approach were at odds with the prevailing values of the Royal Academy and the British art establishment in general.

His defense of their ideals is unsurprising, given that they were largely influenced by his own writing, particularly his elevation of “truth to nature” as a high ideal for artists in the midst of aesthetic philosophy that demanded idealization in artistic interpretations of the world.

That philosophy, and Ruskin himself, first attained prominence with an essay in Modern Painters in 1843 in which he defended the work of J.M.W. Turner.

Ruskin was also the author of a treatise on drawing entitled The Elements of Drawing, that is still relevant and continues to be reprinted and valued today.

Among his other accomplishments, Ruskin was a professor of fine art at University of Oxford, where he established the Ruskin School of Drawing, which continues today as The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art (usually referred to as simply “The Ruskin”).

Also associated with the university is the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, which has placed online a resource titled The Elements of Drawing: John Ruskin’s Teaching Collection at Oxford.

It features digitizations of much of Ruskin’s collection of almost 1500 works that he assembled for use in his school. The collection includes drawings and watercolors by himself and a number of other artists as well as prints and photographs.

You can browse and search the collection in several ways, but the best introduction is probably the highlights assortment of 50 objects.

The objects listings have pages describing the works (click on “Details” for medium and size), and most are linked to larger versions of the images.

(Images above: top six: John Ruskin, bottom three: Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, Samuel Prout, J.M.W. Turner)

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4 responses to “The Elements of Drawing: John Ruskin’s Teaching Collection at Oxford”

  1. John Ruskin also wrote a book on the Cathedral of Amiens in France (it’s heavily decorated), and that book was translated in the late XIXth century in France by Marcel Proust. As a result, Ruskin has had a major influence on Proust’s aesthetic ideas development.
    I understand it’s just a footnote in relation to the extent and diversity of Ruskin’s work. But it’s a very prestigious footnote to me, I had to state it…

    Thnaks for the blog it’s awesome, huge eye-opener for me !

    Pierre from France

    1. Thanks. Pierre. I wasn’t aware of the Proust connection. I still have a lot to discover about Ruskin. Thanks also for the kind words about the blog.

  2. Thank you Charley for bringing attention to John Ruskin. I have always enjoyed his work; and I have used information from his book The Elements of Drawing when teaching drawing classes.

    He also wrote a wonderful book on Venice–Ruskin’s Venice: The Stones Revisited. Anyone interested in Ruskin would get a lot out of this book.

    Thanks for a terrific blog!

  3. My mistake, Ruskin didn’t write Ruskin’s Venice. It was written by Sarah Quill about Ruskin’s time spent in Venice.