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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Under-surface of a dried Spray of Olive, gathered at Verona John Ruskin

  • Ruskin text


    Olive. I will draw you a fresh spray, to be put in the place of this; ultimately this is to belong to the Lower School, being an elementary study in pencil drawing with the point, the outline here and there fastened with the pen. No tint of water-colour is used anywhere in this drawing, and it is an important exercise in the tapering and insertions of the leaf-ribs.

  • Details

    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    Material and technique
    watercolour and bodycolour over graphite on wove paper
    347 x 264 mm
    Verso, all in graphite:
    below top and left of centre, crossed out in graphite: E 267 ?
    towards bottom, right of centre: Ed 10

    Presumably presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford)

    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. 321

    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. 10


    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

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

    6 Olive. Under-surface of dried spray, gathered at Verona. M
  • Ruskin's Educational series, 2nd ed. (1874)

    10. Olive. Under-surface of dried spray, gathered at Verona. M
  • Educational, manuscript (1878)

    R 10.

    I am ashamed to give so many Drawings of my own, but I cannot find Studies by any other Draughtsman which unite the absolute fidelity to Natural Form, which I require from the Landscape student, with the Florentine Methods of outline. But also the very imperfections of these Drawings renders them, I think, a little more helpful as examples. If I could put a Study by Leonardo here, instead of this, though I fain would do so, the exquisiteness of his Shadow would make every student of good feeling so disgusted with his own work that he could scarcely proceed with it. It will be much better for him to advance less deE. spondently till he has learned to be disgusted with mine. Observe, also, that the method of this Study is, more or less, elementary. The outline is first made with the lead and then corrected and secured with the pen; so that the student following it may modify his lead-drawing till he is satisfied, and then pronounce the outline he has chosen. By Leonardo only one line would be drawn with his chalk or silver point, and in copying it, once missed it is missed for ever.

  • Ruskin's Catalogue of Examples (1870)

    Study of olive (under surface of leaves). (R.)

    Pencil only, the outline secured by the pen. From a spray gathered at Verona, and now dry; you shall have a better one soon. It is of the real size, and too small for you to draw yet awhile; but it is placed here that Athena’s tree may be next Apollo’s. Take the next exercise instead.

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