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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Recto: Study for the Portrait of Elizabeth Harriet Warren, later Viscountess Bulkeley, as Hebe. Verso: a study for the same portrait, and other portrait studies George Romney

  • Curator’s description:


    The recto shows a woman, full-length, facing the viewer, her head turned towards the right; she wears a long, loose gown and a cloak. The verso is laid out horizontally, and carries five studies: that on the left runs the full height of the paper, whilst the remaining four are arranged in two rows of two. On the left, another study of the figure on the recto, full-length. To the right, in the top row, the bust of a male? figure, its shoulders and upper torso wrapped in drapery; to the right, a similar figure, only the tops of the shoulders and head depicted. On the bottom row, left, the outline only of a head, shoulders and upper torso; on the right, a woman's or a child's head facing slightly right, the hair falling in curls by the ears.

    The recto, and full-length study on the verso, are studies by Romney for his portrait of Elizabeth Warren as Hebe (1776-7, National Museums and Galleries of Wales, Cardiff). Elizabeth Harriet Warren (1759-1826) is recorded sitting for Romney on 10, 14, 18 and 21 May and 21 December 1776; she married Thomas James Bulkeley, 7th Viscount Bulkeley, in April 1777. Romney also executed many graphite and wash studies for the painting, of which this sheet is but one example (others are in the Victoria & Albert Museum, National Gallery of Scotland, Fitzwilliam Museum, Yale University (Dilworth Collection), Princeton Art Museum, Musée d'Art et Archéologie at Guéret, and a private collection in Detroit). The Ashmolean study omits the eagle above the sitter's head, and the urn by her side, which Romney included in the finished painting.

    This is one of a set of drawings by Romney, first catalogued by Cook and Wedderburn in 1906 in the Standard Series, as '29-34. "Original Studies of Figures for Portraits" (by Reynolds).' However, Ruskin described the drawings as being in the second cabinet of the Reference Series - the position they occupied in 1906 - in his 1878 revision of the Rudimentary Series catalogue (fol. clv); in 1872 he simply described them as being in the Reference Series (Rudimentary Series catalogues, pp. 50-1). These may be the drawings Ruskin described in a letter to Frederic (later Lord) Leighton of June 1863 as 'some dashes in sepia by Reynolds', and which he hoped Leighton would come and see in Denmark Hill (XXXVI.446).

    The individual drawings' positions within the numerical sequence were not specified, save no. 32 which can be identified by Cook and Wedderburn's description of it as 'a study for a portrait of a judge, as one may tell from the wig'. The other works have been assigned numbers arbitrarily, although the smallest have been placed in frames together.

    Although referred to by Ruskin as being by Reynolds, the drawings are clearly by Romney - and, in this case, can be identified with one of Romney's surviving paintings. In his instructions on using the Rudimentary Series, Ruskin describes how sepia drawings should be done speedily using a flat wash - these drawings, 'among the most valuable examples of art in the rooms', presumably embodied this technique (Rudimentary Series catalogues, pp. 50-1). In the notes for his 1878 revision of the Rudimentary Series, Ruskin compared them with Rudimentary Series no. 290, one of his studies of 'leafage' enlarged from a photograph, sketched in a single wash.

  • Details

    George Romney (1734 - 1802)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    recto and verso: brush and dark bistre wash over graphite on buff laid paper
    449 x 262 mm
    Verso, right centre as the verso is oriented, the Ruskin School's stamp

    Possibly John Ruskin by June 1863; 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:


    Brown, David Blayney, Ashmolean Museum Oxford: Catalogue of the Collection of Drawings, iv: The Earlier British Drawings: British Artists and Foreigners Working in Britain Born Before c. 1775 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), no. 1555

    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])

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercises Arranged for the Lower Drawing-School (London: Smith, Elder, 1872)

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercise Arranged For the Lower Drawing-School (London: Spottiswoode, 1873)

    Ruskin, John, ‘Rudimentary Series 1878’, 1878, Oxford, Oxford University Archives

    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. Standard no. 29-034


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