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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Grapes and a Yellow Snail-Shell William Henry Hunt

  • Ruskin text

    142 Yellow snail-shell, and grapes. (W. Hunt).
  • Curator’s description:


    A yellow snail-shell sits on the ground in front of a small bunch of purple grapes; there is an indistinct mossy bank behind them. The drawing has been cut down the left-hand edge (see below), and as it now exists the left-hand 5 mm are an additional strip of paper providing it with a new border.

    The drawing is dated by Witt to c.1850. It first appeared in the Teaching Collection in 1871, when Ruskin catalogued it as no. 142 in the Educational Series, in Case VIII, devoted to "Elementary Zoology" - it was presumably the snail-shell, rather than the grapes, which led to it being placed there. It remained in the same position, albeit renumbered as no. 192, in the 1874 catalogue of the series; it is not mentioned in Ruskin's 1878 reorganisation.

    Cook and Wedderburn note (XXI.92 n. 3) that the drawing was originally larger; Ruskin cut it in two, placing the left section, which depicted more grapes and an apple, in frame 40 of the first cabinet in the Working Series; unfortunately, it can no longer be found.

    Although Ruskin wrote about William Henry Hunt elsewhere, he does not seem to mention this drawing. His attitude to Hunt was contradictory, on the one hand praising his simple tastes, artless arrangements and lack of education in zoology or botany (Notes on Prout and Hunt, §§ 1-20 = XIV.373-384), on the other criticising him for his carelessness in seeking a pleasant effect rather than taking pains to understand and know his subject (Catalogue of Examples, pp. 58-60, repeated in Educational Series catalogues pp. 50-52 (1st ed.) and 48-50 (2nd ed.)). He described how 'I have placed instances of it in my Oxford school as standards of imitative (as distinguished from decorative) colour.... I am aware of no other pieces of art, in modern days, at once so sincere and so accomplished' (Notes on Prout and Hunt, § 20 = XIV.384).

  • Details

    William Henry Hunt (1790 - 1864)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    watercolour and bodycolour on wove paper
    138 x 93 mm

    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:


    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Smith, Elder, 1871), cat. Educational no. 142

    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. 192

    Witt, John, William Henry Hunt (1790-1864): Life and Work, with a Catalogue (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1982), no. 688

    Penny, Nicholas, Ruskin's Drawings, Ashmolean - Christie's Handbooks (London: Phaidon, 1988), no. 10

    Ruskin, John, Catalogue of the Educational Series (London: Spottiswoode, 1874), cat. Educational no. 192


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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