© University of Oxford - Ashmolean Museum
The blue sky is streaked with thin, wispy clouds, above a lower layer of darker clouds which are touched with pink. This is one of a group of three watercolours, of similar size on blue-grey paper, depicting early morning skies at Denmark Hill in March 1868. (The others are nos 3 and 5 in the Educational Series.)
The work was first catalogued in 1871, in the first Educational Series catalogue, as no. 3 B; it remained in the same position in the second Educational Series catalogue, and in Ruskin's 1878 reorganisation of the series, as no. 4.
Ruskin chose this work for its 'extreme simplicity in method of work' (first Educational catalogue, p. 27), including it as a factual record of a beautiful scene, and as a symbol of the way the light of inspiration can transform the ordinary into perfection. In his 1878 manuscript catalogue, he described it as 'one of the most beautiful groups of cloud I ever saw'. It was also intended as an example of a practical exercise in visual memory: speed was of the essence in achieving the desired effect, starting with a delineation of the clouds in pencil, colour then being added while the memory was fresh. It was vital to stop working the moment the mental image faded. The idea was to produce a simple reminder of the sky at that particular point in time. He advised his readers to 'Rise early, always watch the sunrise and the way the clouds break from the dawn' (The Two Paths, § 137 = XVI.371).
Presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford), 1875; transferred from the Ruskin Drawing School to the Ashmolean Museum, c.1949.
Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 099
Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 4
Ruskin, John, ‘Educational Series 1878’, 1878, Oxford, Oxford University Archives, cat. Educational no. 4
Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. 3.B
Ruskin, John, ‘The Ruskin Art Collection at Oxford: Catalogues, Notes and Instructions’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 21, cat. Educational no. 4
Another study of Dawn - one of the most beautiful groups of cloud I ever saw - the drawing placed here only to shew how little we must be some times content. Yet I only wish I had had time, since I was old, or since when I was young, to do as I have now bidden my pupils, and could shew a sketch like this of every group of morning-clouds which have cheered or comforted me, and then left me ashamed - taking to myself the message about the goodness of Ephraim. Hos:vi.4. (E.P.B.)