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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Kirkstall Abbey Samuel Prout

  • Ruskin text

    61 Kirkstall Abbey. Pencil sketch. (Prout).
  • Curator’s description:

    Description

    Generally in good condition. There is a small circular brown stain on the upper left edge. A small tear has been repaired in the top right corner. Prout has smudged his pencil to produce broad areas of shading in several places; he also appears to have used a wet brush to create a graphite wash in the shaded areas along the left edge.

    The drawing depicts a corner of the ruined stone crypt of Kirkstall Abbey: a ruined arched stone rib-vault is supported by imposts on the stone walls, and two columns in the centre of the drawing. There are two ruined round-headed windows in the wall beyond the columns, and a grassy slope rises up within the crypt on the left.

    The drawing may have been done in 1814 or 1818.

    The drawing was first catalogued by Ruskin in 1871, as no. 61 in the first Educational series catalogue; in 1874, its number had changed to 111, althought it still occupied the same position in Case V, 'Elementary Illustrations of Landscape'. In his proposed reorganisation of the series in 1878, Ruskin latered its position slightly, to no. 106, although its context remained fairly similar.

    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

    Artist/maker
    Samuel Prout (1783 - 1852)
    Object type
    drawing
    Material and technique
    graphite on off-white paper
    Dimensions
    163 x 238 mm
    Associated place
    Inscription
    Recto, all in graphite:
    lower left: Kirkstall
    at the head of the left hand arch: drk [?]
    towards the bottom of the right-hand window: dist
    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.111
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:

    Subjects

  • References in which this object is cited include:

    References

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. 61

    Lockett, Richard, Samuel Prout: 1783-1852 (London: Batsford and the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1985)

    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. 111

    Ruskin, John, ‘Educational Series 1878’, 1878, Oxford, Oxford University Archives, cat. Educational no. 106

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 111

Location

    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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