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John Ruskin

John Ruskin

The English critic and social theorist John Ruskin (1819-1900) more than any other man shaped the esthetic values and tastes of Victorian England. His writings combine enormous sensitivity and human compassion with a burning zeal for moral value.

John Ruskin's principal insight was that art is an expression of the values of a society. Though he sometimes applied this insight in a narrow—even a bigoted—way, it nevertheless gave him an almost messianic sense of the significance of art to the spiritual wellbeing of a nation. Ruskin awakened an age of rapid change, uncertain taste, and frequently shoddy workmanship to the meaning of art. But because art was for Ruskin the evidence of society's underlying state of being, he gradually turned his attention, with a reformer's zeal, more and more from art to the transformation of society itself. Though his prose tracts were much abused, they were important and influential contributions to radical criticism of the dominant social and political philosophy of the age. Ruskin's art criticism found the most likely focus to interest a people whose leading concerns were more moral than esthetic.

Ruskin was born on Feb. 8, 1819, in London. His parents were of Scottish descent and were first cousins. His father was a well-to-do wine merchant with a fondness for art. His mother was stern and devout. Both parents lavished attention and supervision on their only child, recognizing his precociousness, but Ruskin's childhood was isolated and his education irregular. He was encouraged in reading, however, and received some instruction in art. In 1837 Ruskin matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, but his studies were interrupted by ill health and consequent travel abroad so that he did not receive his degree until 1842.

"Modern Painters"

Ruskin had early begun to write both poetry and prose, and by the time he left Oxford he had already published articles on architecture and on other subjects. After leaving Oxford, he undertook his first major work, Modern Painters; it testified to his love of nature, especially of Alpine scenery, and to his reverence for J.M.W. Turner as the supreme modern interpreter of "truth" in landscape. The first volume of Modern Painters, published anonymously in 1843, was a success with the discerning public, but it was attacked by professionals, who spotted the author's tendency to dogmatize on an insufficient foundation of experience and technical study. Ruskin then set about to remedy his deficiencies through a firsthand study of the Italian painters, particularly those of the Florentine and Venetian schools. Ruskin's Italian tour of 1845 culminated in his discovery of Tintoretto, who, together with Fra Angelico, displaced Turner to become the heroes of volume 2 of Modern Painters (1846).

In 1848 Ruskin married Euphemia Chalmers Gray. The parents of the bridal couple were old friends, and the match was arranged without any bond of deep affection on either side. Ruskin and his bride honeymooned in Normandy, where he studied the Gothic cathedrals. The pair, unfortunately, were not suited to one another, and the marriage was annulled in 1854. Euphemia Ruskin had by then fallen in love with the painter John Everett Millais, whom she subsequently married.

Architectural Criticism

The weight of Ruskin's interest had now shifted to architecture as the most public of the arts. If, as Ruskin thought, all art expresses the spirit of its maker, architecture then most fully expresses the whole spirit of a people. His religious emphasis was implicit in the title of his next book, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), as well as in his emphasis upon "truth of expression" in materials and in structure. This book and its successor, The Stones of Venice (1851-1853), a great Protestant prose epic of the decline and fall of the Venetian Republic, became the bibles of the Victorian Gothic revival. Ruskin's style in this period was powerfully evocative and readily expanded into sermonic flourishes that cloaked many historical inaccuracies. Once again professionals, though fascinated by his works, were moved to demur on many points where theory had replaced a concrete knowledge of the facts of architectural practice. Perhaps Ruskin's most enduring contribution to the development of modern style was his hostility to classicism. He himself was too devoted to ornament and too hostile both to the machine and to standardized construction ever to figure as a grandfather of functionalism. However, his celebrated chapter on the nature of Gothic in The Stones of Venice can be taken as the main testament of Victorian esthetic values.

Social Criticism

Ruskin had interrupted the composition of Modern Painters for his architectural studies. He now returned to the earlier work, completing it with volumes 3 and 4 in 1856 and volume 5 in 1860. He also lectured on art and defended the Pre-Raphaelites, but his concerns were inevitably drifting further toward social criticism as a way of transforming society. In reality, he had dropped the integument of art from his sermons, and following the lead of Thomas Carlyle, he began to inveigh directly against the values of the political economists. The year 1860 marks the official turning point in his interests, for Ruskin published a series of social essays in the Cornhill Magazine that he later collected as Unto This Last. Ruskin's attack on the dehumanized ethic of modern industrial capitalism drew a bitter response from readers, but it influenced the thinking of many reformers in the developing Labour movement.

Another series of articles on economic subjects, published in Fraser's Magazine (1862-1863) and collected as Munera pulveris (1872), drew a similar outcry from the public. Ruskin now began to lecture frequently, and he later published two collections derived from his lectures, Sesame and Lilies (1865) and The Crown of Wild Olive (1866). Both volumes circulated widely and brought him a popular following. In 1869 Ruskin was appointed the first Slade professor of art at Oxford, a post that he held with some interruption until 1885. These years, however, were turbulent and troublesome for Ruskin. His religious faith had been undermined, and he was tormented by frustrated love for Rose LaTouche, a girl 30 years his junior, whom he had first met when she was a child.

Last Years

On the death of his father Ruskin became independently wealthy. The variety and fever of his activities were an indication of his deeply disturbed condition. In 1871 he began to publish Fors clavigera, a periodical that lasted until 1884. An attack on James McNeill Whistler in Fors in 1887 occasioned a celebrated libel suit which was decided against Ruskin. He also endowed and led a variety of welfare and socialist schemes, thereby consuming most of his inheritance. In 1878 Ruskin suffered his first clear attack of mental illness. Seizures recurred until 1888, when he fell victim to a severe mental breakdown which confined him to his house at Brantwood in the Lake District until his death. In lucid intervals between 1885 and 1889 Ruskin worked on his unfinished autobiography, Praeterita, one of the most moving and revealing of his works. He died on Jan. 20, 1900.

Further Reading

The standard biography of Ruskin is E. T. Cook, The Life of John Ruskin (2 vols., 1911). Important, more recent works are Derrick Leon, Ruskin: The Great Victorian (1949), and Joan Evans, John Ruskin (1954). The best introductions to Ruskin's thought and work are R. H. Wilenski, John Ruskin: An Introduction to Further Study of His Life and Work (1933), and John D. Rosenberg, The Darkening Glass: A Portrait of Genius (1961). The chapter on Ruskin in Graham Hough, The Last Romantics (1947), is very helpful. For intellectual and social background see G. M. Young, Victorian England: Portrait of an Age (1936; 2d ed. 1953), and Jerome Hamilton Buckley, The Victorian Temper (1951). □

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Ruskin, John

John Ruskin, 1819–1900, English critic and social theorist. During the mid-19th cent. Ruskin was the virtual dictator of artistic opinion in England, but Ruskin's reputation declined after his death, and he has been treated harshly by 20th-century critics. Although it is undeniable that he was an extravagant and inconsistent thinker (a reflection of his lifelong mental and emotional instability), it is equally true that he revolutionized art criticism and wrote some of the most superb prose in the English language.

Early Life

Educated by his wealthy, evangelical parents, Ruskin was prepared for the ministry, and until 1836 he spent his mornings with his domineering mother, reading and memorizing the Bible. In 1833 the family went on the first of its many tours of Europe, and the boy ardently studied nature and painting. His stay (1836–40) at Oxford resulted in his winning the Newdigate Prize for poetry and in his determining not to enter the ministry. A breakdown of health in 1840 forced him to travel.

Critic and Reformer

The first volume of Ruskin's Modern Painters appeared in 1843. This work started as a defense of the painter J. M. W. Turner and developed into a treatise elaborating the principles that art is based on national and individual integrity and morality and also that art is a "universal language." He finished the five volumes in 1860. The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) applied these same theories to architecture. In 1848, Ruskin married Euphemia Gray, a beautiful young woman with social ambitions; the union, which apparently was never consummated, was annulled in 1854, and Mrs. Ruskin subsequently married the painter John Everett Millais.

From his position as the foremost English art critic, Ruskin in 1851 defended the work of the Pre-Raphaelite group. His third great volume of criticism, The Stones of Venice (1851–53), maintained that the Gothic architecture of Venice reflected national and domestic virtue, while Venetian Renaissance architecture mirrored corruption. About 1857, Ruskin's art criticism became more broadly social and political. He wrote Unto This Last (in Cornhill Magazine, 1860) and Munera Pulveris (in Fraser's Magazine, 1862–63). These works attacked bourgeois England and charged that modern art reflected the ugliness and waste of modern industry.

Ruskin's positive program for social reform appeared in Sesame and Lilies (1865), The Crown of Wild Olive (1866), Time and Tide (1867), and Fors Clavigera (8 vol., 1871–84). Many of his suggested programs—old age pensions, nationalization of education, organization of labor—have become accepted doctrine. He was made the first professor of art in England (Slade professor, Oxford, 1870) and his lectures were well attended. His multifarious activities broke down his health, however, and in 1878 he suffered his first period of insanity. Recurrences of unbalance became more frequent, though some of his greatest prose, the autobiography Praeterita (1885–89), was written in the lucid intervals.

Bibliography

See his works (39 vol., 1903–12); M. Lutyens, The Ruskins and the Grays (1972); biographies by P. Quennell (1949), E. T. Cook (2 vol., 1911; repr. 1969); T. Hilton (2 vol., 1985–2000); studies by J. Evans (1952, repr. 1970), J. C. Sherburne (1973), J. L. Bradley (1984), J. L. Spear (1984), and S. F. Cooper (2011).

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Ruskin, John

Ruskin, John (1819–1900). English academic and critic, who had an enormous influence not only on architectural style but on the ways in which standards of aesthetics were judged. He used an Evangelical and polemical tone in his writings that not only reached a mass audience but received the approval of the Ecclesiologists. Initially encouraged by J. C. Loudon, he contributed to some of Loudon's publications, but his key works date from the late 1840s and 1850s. The Gothic Revival was well established when Ruskin published The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), which was an immediate success, encapsulating the mood of the period rather than creating new ideas. He argued that architecture should be true, with no hidden structure, no veneers or finishes, and no carvings made by machines, and that Beauty in architecture was only possible if inspired by nature. As exemplars worthy of imitation (he argued that the styles known to Man were quite sufficient, and that no new style was necessary) he selected Pisan Romanesque, early Gothic of Western Italy, Venetian Gothic, and English early Second Pointed as his paradigms. In the choice of the last, the style of the late C13 and early C14, he was echoing A. W. N. Pugin's preferences as well as that of most ecclesiologically minded Gothic Revivalists such as G. G. Scott.

The Stones of Venice (1851–3) helped to promote that phase of the Gothic Revival in which Continental (especially Venetian) Gothic predominated. Deane and Woodward's University Museum, Oxford (1854–60), is an example of Venetian or Ruskinian Gothic. In particular, structural polychromy, featuring colour in the material used, rather than applied, was popularized by Ruskin's writings. The Stones also contained a section on the nature of Gothic in which Ruskin argued that the admirable qualities of medieval architecture were related to the commitment, creative pride, and freedom of the craftsmen who worked on the buildings. From this idea Morris developed his theories, and the Arts-and-Crafts movement began to evolve.

Ruskin found certain styles (e.g. Baroque) unacceptable because they exploited illusions, and therefore were not ‘truthful’. This use of moral disapprobation of justify an aesthetic stance has been a potent weapon in the hands of International Modernists. Gropius, for example, claimed to have been influenced by Ruskin's writings.

Bibliography

Batchelor (2001);
Bell (1978);
Blau (1982);
M. Brooks (1987);
R. Daniels & Brandwood (eds.) (2003);
Hewison (1976);
Hitchcock (1954);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
Pevsner (1969, 1972);
Ruskin (1903–12);
Swenarton (1989);
D. Watkin (1977);
Mi. Wheeler & Whiteley (eds.) (1992)

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"Ruskin, John." A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Ruskin, John (1819-1900)

Ruskin, John (1819-1900)

Famous British author and critic born in London on February 8, 1819, who owed his belief in survival to Spiritualism. In Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood by W. Holman Hunt (2 vols., 1913) there occurs the following conversation:

"When we last met," said Holman Hunt to Ruskin, "you declared you had given up all belief in immortality." "I remember well," Ruskin replied, "but what has mainly caused the change in my views is the unanswerable evidence of spiritualism. I know there is much vulgar fraud and stupidity connected with it, but underneath there is, I am sure, enough to convince us that there is personal life independent of the body, but with this once proved, I have no further interest in spiritualism."

Also during one summer in Switzerland Ruskin had a startling experience with a child who saw a ghost that had long been known to haunt a particular spot in the valley of Chamonix. He described the female spirit as having no eyes, but only holes where they were supposed to be.

Ruskin died January 20, 1900.

Sources:

Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Prince, Walter F. Noted Witnesses for Psychic Occurrences. Boston: Boston Society for Psychical Research, 1928. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1963.

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Ruskin, John

Ruskin, John (1819–1900). Ruskin was the most influential art critic of his time as well as a talented draughtsman and water-colourist. The son of a wealthy wine merchant, he was able to travel extensively after Oxford, developing his artistic knowledge. His large written output gave him enormous influence over public opinion; he successfully defended the Pre-Raphaelites and championed Turner. While continuing to write prolifically on art, after 1860 he also wrote on social, political, and economic matters. These writings emphasized his view of the moral function of the arts as a ‘visible sign of national virtue’. Ruskin disliked the effects of the industrial revolution, but also resisted plans to improve mass design in industry, as commercially tainted. In 1870 he was appointed Slade professor at Oxford and endowed the Drawing School there. His last years were marred by mental illness and he died in the Lake District having rarely spoken for several years.

June Cochrane

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Ruskin, John

Ruskin, John (1819–1900) English writer, artist, and social reformer. A strong religious conviction was the basis for Ruskin's advocacy of Gothic naturalism as the best style through which to praise God. His ideas are outlined forcefully in his books on architecture: The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (three vols., 1851–53). His five-volume work Modern Painters (1834–60) championed the paintings of J. M. W. Turner, and after 1851 he supported the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

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