The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford


About the collection

John Ruskin established his Drawing School at Oxford in 1871. He intended it not for the training of artists, but of ordinary men and women, who, by following his course, ‘might see greater beauties than they had hitherto seen in nature and in art, and thereby gain more pleasure in life’. His method required the student to master the rudiments of technique – outline, shading, colour – through a carefully directed course of lessons in copying both works of art and natural specimens.

Ruskin assembled the collections for his students to copy over a period of fifteen years.  The collection was very diverse, and included drawings by himself and other artists, as well as many reproductions.

Ruskin divided the Collection into four main series. The Standard and Reference Series contained exemplary works of art or reproductions of them, whilst the Educational and Rudimentary Series provided practical examples. The Rudimentary Series was for students from outside the University; the Educational was for undergraduates. Each item was placed in a numbered frame, arranged in a set of cabinets, so that they all had a specific position in the Collection (although Ruskin often moved items about as his ideas changed).

About the website

The Elements of Drawing website provides a visual interface to Ruskin's Teaching Collection, uniting his catalogue, comments and instructions to his students with modern curatorial information about each object. In particular, the drawings are cross-linked to Ruskin’s own notes on how they should be used for teaching and research. As some of the original collections have now been dispersed under individual artist categories, this project reassembles them virtually.

Users can browse through the cabinets or search for specific works. The Learning section contains ideas for using the website and collection, including a video-based drawing course delivered by Stephen Farthing R.A.. In Collection Trails, academics and other writers select objects from the collection and provide background information on a variety of themes. The Ruskin Now section contains modern reinterpretations of the collection.

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