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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View of Luzern from above John Ruskin

  • Ruskin text

    72 Lucerne from hill above Reuss. 1866. M
  • Curator’s description:


    In good condition. Two dark spots, 18 mm apart, in the bottom centre. Slightly uneven surface to the paper along the bottom edge.

    The drawing is largely in graphite with colour added only for the lake and shore, some roofs and white walls.

    A view over Luzern from the north-east. Beyond the roofs of closely packed houses, the south side of the Jesuit Church is partially visible in the top right, with the Kapellbrücke on the left, crossing the river Reuss. The far shore is reflected in the water of the Vierwaldstätter See in the background, top left.

    In 1861 Ruskin based himself in Luzern from 16 October to 27 December. He also spent ten days there from mid-June in 1866. In ED1, Ruskin gives the date for this drawing, which he titles "Lucerne from hill above Reuss", as 1866, but his dating is not always reliable.Taylor agrees that 1861 seems the most likely date, as evidence suggests that Ruskin dated most of the drawings he made in 1866, and so any undated drawings are more likely to date from his 1861 visit, when Ruskin spent at least eighteen mornings and several afternoons hard at work.

    First listed in the Drawing School in 1871, this drawing was included in Case V of the Educational Series, which contained 'Elementary Illustrations of Landscape', in both the first and second independent catalogues of the Educational Series: it was no. 72 in the 1871 catalogue, and 117 in the 1874 catalogue. It was framed with another drawing of the same subject. Although not mentioned in Ruskin's 1878 reorganisation of the Series, it seems likely that it retained its position, as it would certainly fit in the group of works which were intended to illustrate 'what German and Swiss life were in their happiest associations with landscape about the beginning of this Century' (Educational Series manuscript catalogue, fol. LXXV).

  • Details

    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    watercolour and bodycolour over graphite on pale brown wove paper
    157 x 253 mm
    Associated place

    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. 082

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. 72

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 117

    Hayman, John, John Ruskin and Switzerland (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1990), no. 80, p. 104, no. 80, p. 104

    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. 117


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Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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