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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Stone Pines at Sestri, Gulf of Genoa John Ruskin

  • Ruskin text

    22. Stone-pines.

    The black spruce and the stone-pine are both of equal importance in the Greek mind; as relating either to the mountains, or the sea and ships. But the true pine, whose double leaves give it the epithet διπλόθριξ, grows continually by the sea-shore, and is properly the one sacred to Poseidon. This piece of landscape, showing a bay of the Mediterranean through the stems of the pines, will give you some idea of the mingled grace and strength of the tree, where it grows on crag, and is tried by storms, as among the Greek islands.

  • Curator’s description:

    Description

    The drawing is dominated by a single pine tree, surrounded by others, smaller and less well-defined. An uneven path leads down the hillside, and the sea and a distant coastline can be glimpsed through the trees. On 29 April 1845 Ruskin wrote home that he planned to 'make studies of stone pine' (H.I. Shapiro, Ruskin Family - Ruskin in Italy: Letters to his Parents, Oxford (Clarendon Press): 1972, letter 19). His next letter relates that he had been 'working like a horse, and have got a most valuable study of stone pine ... Air all scented by the pines and wild flowers - and the birds singing so loudly you can hardly hear the sea'. (Shapiro, letter 20)

    Ruskin first catalogued the drawing in 1870, listing it as no. 10 in the Educational series in the "Catalogue of Examples". The following year, he moved it to frame 13 in case I of the series, "Introductory Subjects, and Exercises in Flower Drawing" (Educational Catalogue, 1st edition). By 1874, the drawing had been re-numbered as no. 22, although its position remained the same (Educational Catalogue, 2nd edition). In the 1878 reorganisation of the collection, however, Ruskin intended to move the drawing to the Rudimentary Series where, as no. 295, it would have been part of a series showing how to depict plants. It seems, from his description in the catalogue, that the drawing was originally partly obscured by its mount (Rudimentary Series, manuscript catalogue).

    Ruskin included the drawing in the collection both as an example of speedy but accurate depiction, and because of the association of the stone pine with Poseidon. He wrote to his father in 1852 that, in 1845, 'I went into Italy with a new perception of the meaning of the words drawing and chiaroscuro. My first attempts with my new perception were those of the stone pines at Sestri, now in your bedroom' - the drawing he later placed in the Drawing School (XXXVI.131).

  • Details

    Artist/maker
    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    drawing
    Material and technique
    graphite and pen with washes and white bodycolour on off-white paper
    Dimensions
    442 x 334 mm
    Associated place
    Inscription
    Verso, right of centre, 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.ED.022
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:

    Subjects

  • References in which this object is cited include:

    References

    Ruskin, John, ‘Praeterita: Outlines of Scenes and Thoughts Perhaps Worthy of Memory in My Past Life’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 35

    Ruskin, John, The Diaries of John Ruskin, ed. Joan Evans and John Howard Whitehouse, 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956-1959), pl. 24, between pp. 320 & 321

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 22

    Penny, Nicholas, Ruskin's Drawings, Ashmolean - Christie's Handbooks (London: Phaidon, 1988), no. 9

    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. IV, pl. 12, f.p. 346

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. 13

    Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 019

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Letters of John Ruskin’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 36-37

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of Examples Arranged for Elementary Study in the University Galleries (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1870), cat. Educational no. 10

    Ruskin, John, ‘Rudimentary Series 1878’, 1878, Oxford, Oxford University Archives, cat. Rudimentary no. 295

    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. 22

Location

    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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