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

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

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Sketch at Cologne Samuel Prout

  • Curator’s description:


    The drawing shows a scene in Cologne: a small stone well with a tiled canopy, in front of the gable-end of a house and a wall. A tall octagonal tower with several bands of Gothic tracery rises up behind the wall; this is the same tower depicted in one of the prints entitled "Cologne" from Samuel Prouts "Facsimiles of Sketches made in Flanders and Germany", published in 1833.

    The drawing was presumably made in 1821, when Prout visited Cologne; Hewison, in his edition of the Rudimentary Series catalogue, identify it as a preliminary drawing for plate 2 of Prout's "Illustrations of the Rhine: Drawn from Nature and on Stone", London (R. Ackermann): [1824].

    Ruskin first catalogued the drawing in 1872, including it as no. 85 in the Rudimentary Series, placed in case 4, 'Gothic Design', a position it occupied in all subsequent catalogues of the series. Discussing the drawing at length in his 1878 revsion of the series, Ruskin noted how Prout must have manipulated aspects of the scene in order to unify the composition, for example exaggerating the horseshoe above the door and altering the positions of the windows in the gable. It was a perfect expression of 'the delicate richness of late Gothic architecture more or less softened by time'.

    Ruskin gave a detailed description of his reasons for admiring Prout's work in the "Notes on Prout and Hunt" which he composed to accompany an exhibition of the artists' work at the Fine Art Society in 1879-1880. He stated that Prout possessed 'a genius as earnest as it was humble, doing work not in its essence romantic at all; but, on the contrary, the only quite useful, faithful, and evermore serviceable work that the [Old Water-Colour] Society - by hand of any of its members - had ever done, or could ever, in that phase of its existence, do' (§ 29 = XIV.391).

    Prout's work delighted in the dilapidated and the old, and in portraying it rather than trying to produce a narrative or evoke sentiment; it was 'painting - as mere painting' (§ 27 = XIV.389), focussing on the art of depiction in its own right (cf. The Eagle's Nest, § 87 = XXII.185; and Samuel Prout, § 11 = XII.313-314, where the much younger Ruskin praised Prout's depictions of the picturesque; likewise in The Elements of Drawing, § 257 = XV.221-222). Prout's work was, importantly unaffected. Like Turner, Bewick and William Henry Hunt, Prout could draw the poor, but not the rich - because he seldom drew active figures. 'He understood, and we do not, the meaning of the word "quiet"' (§ 42 = XIV.402).

    Ruskin also praised Prout's abilities as a consummate draughtsman: 'Prout is not a colourist, nor in any extended or complete sense of the word a painter. He is essentially a draughtsman with the lead pencil .... And the chief art-virtue of the pieces here exhibited is the intellectual abstraction which represents many features of things with a few lines.' (§ 31 = XIV.392.) In his 1872 lecture on contentment in science in art, Ruskin noted that this 'imperfect' style was ideally suited to Prout's dilapidated subject-matter: a more refined execution would only have exposed the subjects' imperfections (The Eagle's Nest, § 87 = XXII.185-186).

    But Prout was also 'the only one of our artists who entirely shared Turner's sense of magnitude, as the sign of past human effort or of natural force' (§ 39 = XIV.399) - a quality sadly lacking in contemporary artists and their audiences. This was a sign of Prout's character: 'The quiet and calm feeling of reverence for this kind of power, and the accurate habit of rendering it ... are always connected, so far as I have observed, with some parallel justice in the estimate of spiritual order and power in human life and its laws' (§ 41 = XIV.401). Related to this was Prout’s 'greatness in composition', his ability to arrange his works according to 'an order only the more elevated because unobtrusive' (Samuel Prout, § 10 = XII.312-313); The Two Paths, § 60 = XVI.302) - and so Ruskin referred to his writings frequently in "The Elements of Drawing"

    Prout was also significant for having recorded many buildings before they were pulled down or destroyed by restoration (Samuel Prout, §§ 7 & 12 = XII.310-311 & 314-315; cf. Pre-Raphaelitism, § 26 = XII.362) and The Two Paths, § 60 = XVI.301): 'The works of Prout [...] will become to memorials the most precious of the things that have been; to their technical value, however great, will be added the far higher interest of faithful and fond records of a strange and unreturning era of history' (Samuel Prout, § 12 = XII.314-315).

  • Details

    Samuel Prout (1783 - 1852)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    graphite on off-white wove paper
    257 x 179 mm
    Associated place
    lower right, in black chalk: Cologne

    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.

    No. of items
    Accession no.
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:


  • References in which this object is cited include:


    Ruskin, John, The Ruskin Art Collection at Oxford: Catalogue of the Rudimentary Series, in the Arrangement of 1873, ed. Robert Hewison (London: Lion and Unicorn Press, 1984), cat. Rudimentary no. 85, RUD.085

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing, Arranged with Reference to the First Series of Examples in the Drawings Schools of the University of Oxford (n.p., [1872]), cat. Rudimentary no. 85

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercises Arranged for the Lower Drawing-School (London: Smith, Elder, 1872), cat. Rudimentary no. 85

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercise Arranged For the Lower Drawing-School (London: Spottiswoode, 1873), cat. Rudimentary no. 85

    Ruskin, John, ‘Rudimentary Series 1878’, 1878, Oxford, Oxford University Archives, cat. Rudimentary no. 85

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Works of John Ruskin’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), vol. XXI, pl. XLII, f.p. 191

    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. Rudimentary no. 85


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

  • Ruskin's revision to the Rudimentary series (1878)

    remains 85.

    An easy sketch, excellent for an introduction to architectural drawing, and as a lesson in composition; the first great object in all composition being to get things to hold well together. I do not know what the thing like a horseshoe was over the house-door, but I have not the least doubt it was little conspicuous in reality; but I have no doubt it was there in reality, for it is the great virtue of Prout always to make his composition of things that are there; but I do not believe this was so conspicuous, as I said, because it is of so great importance to the composition that I am almost certain Prout exaggerated it from some quite unimportant object. That little horse-shoe gathers all the square windows of the house together; also the two benches or upset tubs, or whatever they are, at the bottom add simply another story to the building and are equivalent to a Lombardic foundation of projecting stones in a grand church-front. These would not have been enough without the shutter connecting the window and door, and the loosening of this on its hinges is in a kind of harmony with R. the ruin on the side of the house above; for there is metaphysical as well as physical composition, and, if you begin ruining a house at the corner, you must carry the ruin through. I do not doubt that the obliquity of the windows in the gable-roof is Prout’s doing; it might have been so in reality, but is scarcely likely to such an extent. The likeliest thing is that these three windows were symmetrically placed over the door, and that Prout carried them to the side in order to get in the point of the gable, which is the first turn in the procession of form up to the flat-topped tower. You get, first a steep gable over oblong windows, then in the well a very flat gable over square openings more pronounced, and then in the tower no gable at all and the square pronunciation everything. If, however, this tower had come straight down behind the near wall, the eye would instantly have been uncomfortably caught by the right angle; the roof of the intermediate house introduces the wall to the tower in the politest possible way. There are ninety-nine chances to one that in reality this house-roof was farther to the right or left, and in either case it would R. have been of no use. Lastly, the use of the wall on the extreme right, is a slight, but yet sufficient, balance of interest on that side, making one think there is something going to happen there also, if we could see a little farther. I suspect this, also, to be done out of Prout’s head. The execution of the sculptured part of the tower is as good as it can possibly be on these simple terms. With nothing but a blunt lead pencil in your hand you cannot do more than Prout has here done to express the delicate richness of late Gothic architecture more or less softened by time.

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