John Ruskin (1819-1900)

* 8.2.1819 in London; † 20.1.1900 in Brantwood / Lancashire
Art critic; Art historian; Artist; Social Philosopher; Slade Professor of Fine Arts 

R. was born in 1819 in London. In 1854 he founded the London Working Men’s College and gave drawing lessons. He established his own Drawing School in Oxford in 1870, parallel to taking the position as first Slade Professor of Fine Arts at Oxford University. R. not only wrote about and taught art he was also a talented artist himself, painting primarily with watercolours. He was tutored by the President of the Old Water Colour Society, C. Fielding, and a more progressive teacher J. D. Harding. R.’s works were occasionally exhibited at the Royal Institute in London and served as teaching examples for his drawing schools. R.’s influence was achieved primarily through his writing, but he also was a remarkable art collector. His family had the financial means, which enabled R. to publish a broad spectrum of issues and to support artists by buying their works of art. R. died in 1900 in his estate Brantwood in Coniston, after having caught flu.


Biographical Links

The Dictionary of Art Historians


John Ruskin was no doubt the most famous and influential art critic of the 19th century in England, who chiefly made his reputation by championing contemporary artists, in particular William Turner (1775-1851) and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. His immense influence in the field of art is not simply limited to art criticism, but expands over numerous other activities related to art. His large oeuvre reflects his broad studies in fields as various as politics, botany, geology, poetry, museology, architecture, art and history. Thus, today he is often regarded as a “pioneer in inter-disciplinary thinking”. Among his most renowned and influential publications on art and architecture are Modern Painters I-V (1843-60), The Stones of Venice I-III (1851-53) and The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849). Ruskin’s eloquence in writing was set into practice through lectures on art and the teaching of drawing. The latter was summarized in his publications The Elements of Drawing (1857), The Elements of Perspective (1859) and an unfinished work, The Laws of Fiesole (1879). A feature that distinguishes Ruskin from other art critics is that his works were not addressed to a selected circle of intellectuals but to all people, including the simple working man. The excellence in his work lies in the fact that he could convey complex matters in a simple way. Ruskin’s influence in the 19th century and beyond was, furthermore, mirrored in his writings on social criticism, such as Unto this Last (1860) and the monthly letters, Fors Clavigera (1871-84). (A.B.)

Further Reading

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