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

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

Ruskin's Educational series, 1st ed. (1871)

Ruskin's first catalogue of 300 works for the instruction of undergraduates and his notes on the use of particular examples.

Educational 1 cover

Ruskin's Catalogues: 1 object

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Ruskin assembled a diverse collection of artworks for his drawing school in Oxford, including watercolours by J.M.W. Turner and drawings by Ruskin himself.  He taught students to draw as a way of educating them in how to look at art and the world around them.  

Ruskin divided his Teaching Collection into four main series: Standard, Reference, Educational and Rudimentary. 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). 

When incorporated into the Ashmolean’s collection in the last century, the works were removed from the frames and the sequence was lost.  Here, Ruskin's original catalogues, notes and instructions - in his chosen order and in his own words - are united with images of the works and links to modern curatorial descriptions.

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Study of a few Blades of Grass as they Grew John Ruskin

  • Ruskin text

    6, and 7. Grass and clover.

    I choose these and the following plants as reminding you of what is most pure and true in the Greek thoughts of the Gods as givers of life to the earth. Here is their order, that you may see it at a glance—my reasons for the unauthorized choice of some of the flowers, you will find stated in the Notes on each drawing:—

    Grass for Triptolemus . Laurel” Apollo . Olive” Athena . Wild Strawberry-blossom, (Rose-tribe)” Demeter . Fleur-de-lys” Cora . Lily” Artemis . Heath” Hephæstus . Vine and Ivy” Dionysus . Ilex” Zeus . Pine” Poseidon . Asphodel (Wild Hyacinth)” Hermes . House-leek” Hestia . Narcissus” Aphrodite .

    You see that this gives you the group of the great Olympian Gods; omitting Ares and Hera; but adding Triptolemus, Dionysus, and Cora. Ares has no real claim to be ranked among the greater Gods, for he represents merely the physical strength and rage of war; all the moral strength of war being Athena’s. But Cora-Persephone has deep influence over the Greek heart. Again, Hera is merely a collateral phrase of the power of Zeus, scarcely distinct from it; but Dionysus, in his noble authority, however closely related to Apollo, has absolutely distinct power. You had better learn my list by heart, therefore, remembering that you have to put Hera and Ares back into their places when you want to name the twelve Olympian Deities.

    Now of the separate flower drawings, note further, the grass and clover come first; given to Triptolemus as the leading representatives of pasture, corn, and pulse, which are the three essential gifts of the earth under agriculture, to man and beast. Then compare Numbers 41, and 176: especially the last, where the little pencil sketch of mine under the print from Le Normand gives you the archaic type of the dragon’s head and wings, just behind the head of Triptolemus himself: showing you how these signified first the germination of the root and leaf; in later work, the wings of the chariot signify the cloud giving rain, Triptolemus being then preceded by Hermes, the lord of clouds.

    The sketches of clover blossom are out of my botanical note-book, and only on blue writing-paper; but they are far carried in showing the oblique action of the blossom as it emerges from the green involucre, and if you can copy the foreshortened trefoil, leaf in the uppermost on the left, it will be serviceable practice. The coarse ink sketch is of the calices of the separate flowers.

  • Details

    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    watercolour over graphite on pale grey paper
    219 x 164 mm
    Recto, bottom left, in graphite (recent): ED 6

    Verso, centre, the Ruskin School's stamp

    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:


    Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 017

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. 4

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 6

    Ruskin, John, ‘Educational Series 1878’, 1878, Oxford, Oxford University Archives, cat. Educational no. 6

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of Examples Arranged for Elementary Study in the University Galleries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), cat. Educational no. 41.C

    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. 6


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Ruskin's Catalogues

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