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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Little Egret John Ruskin

  • Curator’s description:

    Description

    The little egret stands in a marshy pool surrounded by reeds, with another egret standing at the water's edge in the distance, and a third taking wing in the background. The sky has been coloured in at a later point, by Ruskin himself according to Cook and Wedderburn (XXI.228 n. 5).

    This print was taken from John Gould's "The Birds of Great Britain", published in five volumes from 1863 to 1873. Ruskin's name appears in the list of subscribers. The little egret, to which Ruskin referred simply as 'Egret' in his catalogue, is pl. 23 of vol. IV, entitled "Herodias garzetta". In the accompanying text Gould writes that the bird has been represented 'a trifle less than the natural size'.

    According to James Dearden (personal communication, 20 December 2003), Ruskin's copy of Gould's "British Birds" was sold by Sotheby’s, 18 May 1931, lot 79, to Marks for 6 guineas, and is now untraced. He suggests that the set which Cook and Wedderburn describe as having been given away (XXXIV.699) may be the one now in the collection of the Guild of Saint George; this is complete, so cannot be the source for the plates in the collection.

    The print was one of only two in the second section of the ninth cabinet of the Rudimentary Series to be identified precisely by Ruskin; the remainder were simply referred to as examples from 'Le Vaillant's work on the Birds of Paradise'. This section was devoted to 'Exercises in balanced colour and shade, with perfect form'.

    In his lecture on 'Elementary Exercises in Physiologic Art: The Story of the Halcyon', delivered on 7 March 1872, Ruskin described how the last little egret seen in Britain had been beaten to death by a peasant about 30 years before. Claiming that the more one desired to look at an animal, the less one would wish to harm it, he used this story as an illustration of the moral benefits of education (and of drawing) - before turning on the system of examination at Oxford, and the British aristocracy's taste for shooting. (The Eagle's Nest, §§ 173-179 = XXII.241-244.)

    More generally, Ruskin wrote of his plates from Gould's "British Birds" (nos 195-200 & 225) that he intended them to further his students' relationship with birds and their study: 'I believe even these few examples will be greatly useful in exciting the interest of the younger students in ornithology, and especially in the living birds' (Rudimentary Series catalogues, entry for cabinet eight, section two); such study would be morally improving.

    Although Ruskin claimed that 'entire dependence may be placed on the accuracy of representation', he observed that the 'fine lithograpic texture' of the plates might make copying difficult. However, he seems to have valued them for their potential to further his students' relationship with birds and their study (pp. 20-21 in all published Rudimentary Series catalogues) - as also appears in other references which he made to Gould's work (Fors Clavigera, letter 51 (March 1875), § 23 = XXVIII.290; Love's Meinie, § 87 = XXV.77-79; The Eagle's Nest, §§ 173-179 = XXII.241-244 - the latter emphasizing seeing and drawing birds as a means of understanding them).

    Ruskin noted in his catalogue that Gould's "Birds", like Le Vaillant's "Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de paradis" (1806), 'should eventually form a part of the student's library' (all published Rudimentary Series catalogues, p. 20). However, as Cook and Wedderburn have concluded, such a library was never formed on account of the numerous facilities available in Oxford, although a few books were set aside in a case at the Drawing School (XXI.226 n. 6)

  • Details

    Artist/maker
    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900) (artist, lithographer, lithographer)
    Walter (active c. 1862 - c. 1873) (printer)
    John Gould (1804 - 1881) (designer)
    H. C. Richter (active 19th century) (designer)
    Object type
    print
    Material and technique
    watercolour over lithograph on wove paper
    Dimensions
    494 x 341 mm (sheet)
    Inscription
    Verso:
    top left, in graphite: R | 225
    bottom left, in graphite: Rud 225
    bottom left, the Ruskin School's stamp
    Provenance

    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
    1
    Accession no.
    WA.RS.RUD.225
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:

    Subjects

  • References in which this object is cited include:

    References

    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. 225

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Eagle's Nest: Ten Lectures on the Relation of Natural Science to Art, Given Before the University of Oxfored, in Lent Term, 1872’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 22

    Gould, John, The Birds of Great Britain, 5 (London: John Gould, 1862-1873), vol. IV, pl. 23

    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. 225

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercises Arranged for the Lower Drawing-School (London: Smith, Elder, 1872), cat. Rudimentary no. 225

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercise Arranged For the Lower Drawing-School (London: Spottiswoode, 1873), cat. Rudimentary no. 225

    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. 225, RUD.225

Location

    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series, 3rd ed. (1872)

    These examples are from Le Vaillant’s work on the Birds of Paradise , but not catalogued, for the same reason that Mr. Gould’s Birds are not: that I wish the book to be in the student’s library. For which reason, also, I have not cut up my fine-paper copy; and these prints, from the small-paper edition, are not justly representative of Le Vaillant’s book ; but will answer my immediate purpose, of giving exercises in colour, with extreme precision of terminal line. The swallow, from my Dutch book, R|223 , and egret, from Mr. Gould’s , R|225 , are necessary for other particulars, and will remain.

  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series 4th ed. (1872)

    These examples are from Le Vaillant’s work on the Birds of Paradise , but not catalogued, for the same reason that Mr. Gould’s Birds are not: that I wish the book to be in the student’s library. For which reason, also, I have not cut up my fine-paper copy; and these prints, from the small-paper edition, are not justly representative of Le Vaillant’s book ; but will answer my immediate purpose, of giving exercises in colour, with extreme precision of terminal line. The swallow, from my Dutch book, R|223 , and egret, from Mr. Gould’s , R|225 , are necessary for other particulars, and will remain.

  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series, 5th ed. (1873)

    These examples are from Le Vaillant’s work on the Birds of Paradise , but not catalogued, for the same reason that Mr. Gould’s Birds are not: that I wish the book to be in the student’s library. For which reason, also, I have not cut up my fine-paper copy; and these prints, from the small-paper edition, are not justly representative of Le Vaillant’s book ; but will answer my immediate purpose, of giving exercises in colour, with extreme precision of terminal line. The swallow, from my Dutch book, R|223 , and egret, from Mr. Gould’s , R|225 , are necessary for other particulars, and will remain.

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