The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

The Elements of Drawing, John Ruskin’s teaching collection at Oxford

Ruskin's Rudimentary series, 5th ed. (1873)

Items marked 'M' are drawings "by my own Hand" (by Ruskin), P are photographs, E engravings and A by Ruskin's Assistant, Arthur Burgess.

Rudimentary 5 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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The Rush and its Star Blossom (plate from Floræ Danicæ) anonymous Danish

  • Ruskin text

    R|1} The rush, and its star-blossom; first of kingly flowers. Floræ Danicæ.
  • Curator’s description:

    Description

    The print shows several stems of a rush, the longest of which has been divided into two to fit it on the sheet, together with details of a section of stem which has been opened out, its flower in various stages of development, and its seeds. Ruskin has added letters to facilitate the explanation of the print's details.

    The print has been extracted from the "Floræ Danicæ", an extensive collection of plates illustrating the flora of Norway, Denmark and Schleswig-Holstein, published in twenty-three volumes between 1764 and 1883; it was plate MXCIV in volume VII, published in 1799. As Ruskin noted in "The Laws of Fésole", the names of neither the draughtsmen nor the engravers responsible for the work were recorded (§ 37 n. = XV.482 n.).

    According to James Dearden (personal communication, 20 December 2003), Ruskin bought a copy of the "Floræ Danicæ" from Quaritch on 27 July 1866; this was later sold at Sotheby's on 18 May 1931, lot 103, to Solomons, and is now untraced. Ruskin bought another six volumes from Quaritch on 21 August 1883. Volumes from the work are listed by Cook and Wedderburn as being in the collection of the Guild of Saint George collection at Sheffield (XXX.262), whilst Dearden also notes another six volumes given to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, in 1885.

    This plate was first recorded in the collection in 1872, as no. 1 in the Rudimentary Series, in the section of the first cabinet devoted to heraldic constructions - a position it retained in the printed catalogue of the series, although it was replaced by a drawing of a romanesque inscription from the Badia at Fiesole in the 1878 reorganisation of the series.

    Ruskin devoted a significant part of his instructions on using the Rudimentary Series to the print, for two reasons. First, he noted how rushes were the most basic form of those plants which he called the 'Drosidæ', or 'dew-plants', which inluded lillies, asphodels, amaryllids and irids, and to which he paid so much attention. The letters which he added to the print enabled him to enumerate the different parts of the plant which they illustrated, and the ways in which they were arranged (pp. 32-34 in all printed Rudimentary Series catalogues).

    Second, as he noted, 'the Danish draughtsman, for all his skill, could not draw a rush-blossom in perspective; we will try presently to do that for him': the subsequent exercises in geometric constructions, based upon nos 2 and 3 in the Rudimentary Series, seem to fulfill Ruskin's aims 'first to derive some easier form from its complex one' (p. 36 in all printed Rudimentary Series catalogues).

    Ruskin was hugely impressed by the engravings in the "Floræ Danicæ", considering it an 'example of what ... the human eye and finger can accomplish by severe industry, every town library ought to possess, and make conveniently accessible to its students, the great botanical series of the "Floræ Danicæ"' (The Laws of Fésole, ch. x, § 35 = XV.481-482); he bemoaned its rarity (Proserpina, vol. II, ch. vi, § 2 = XXV.474). In the engravings, 'I at least am sure of finding whatever is done at all, done as well as honesty and care can' (Proserpina, vol. II, ch. i, § 23 =XXV.399).

    However, he preferred the earlier plates, produced before 1820, to the later, considering the drawing 'in better taste, and the engravings more exemplary in manner, than in the supplementary numbers lately in course of publication: but the resolute and simple effort for excellence is unfailing throughout; and for precision and patience of execution, the ten plates, 2744 to 2753, may be safely taken as monumental of the honour, grace, and, in the most solemn sense, majesty, of simple human work, maintained amidst and against all the bribes, follies, and lasciviousness of the nineteenth century' (The Laws of Fésole, ch. x, § 35 = XV. 482).

  • Details

    Artist/maker
    anonymous Danish (engraver)
    Object type
    print
    Material and technique
    watercolour over engraving on laid paper
    Dimensions
    365 x 225 mm (sheet)
    Inscription
    Recto:
    top, right of centre, engraved: Flora Danica Tab. MXCIV
    all other inscriptions in ink, by Ruskin:
    top left, in a rectangular box: R | 1
    top centre: scra take out in mounting the ink below this [the first word struck through; 'remounting' originally written as 'remountg' and then corrected]
    just below, crossed out with a series of fine, diagonal parallel lines: 817/5.1095
    top right: 1094
    bottom centre: Juncus Lævis
    within the image, a series of letters labelling the details of the plate, 'A' to 'F' (omitting 'B') and 'a' to f'

    Verso, bottom, towards right, and upside down, 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.RUD.001
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:

    Subjects

  • References in which this object is cited include:

    References

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercise Arranged For the Lower Drawing-School (London: Spottiswoode, 1873), cat. Rudimentary no. 1

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in the Preliminary Exercises Arranged for the Lower Drawing-School (London: Smith, Elder, 1872), cat. Rudimentary no. 1

    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. Rudimentary no. 1, pl. L, f.p. 242

    Ruskin, John, The Ruskin Art Collection at Oxford: Catalogue of the Rudimentary Series, in the Arrangement of 1873, ed. Robert Hewison (London: Lion and Unicorn Press, 1984), cat. Rudimentary no. 1, RUD.001

    Ruskin, John, Instructions in Practice of Elementary Drawing, Arranged with Reference to the First Series of Examples in the Drawings Schools of the University of Oxford (n.p., [1872]), cat. Rudimentary no. 1

    Oeder, George Christian, et al., Icones plantarum sponte nascentium in regnis Daniæ et Norvegiæ, in ducatibus Slesvici et Holsatiæ, ... Floræ Danicæ nomine inscriptum, 23 (Copenhagen: Claudius Philibertus, 1764-1883), vol. VII (1799), pl. 1094

Location

    • Western Art Print Room

Position in Ruskin’s Collection

Ruskin's Catalogues

  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series, 3rd ed. (1872)

    R|1} The rush, and its star-blossom; first of kingly flowers. Floræ Danicæ.
  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series 4th ed. (1872)

    R|1} The rush, and its star-blossom; first of kingly flowers.E. (Floræ Danicæ.

    So we will begin with the Rush.

    R. 1. Juncus lævis. Smooth rush.

    This is Ray’s name for it. Linnæus called it the clustered rush, because it grows in thick clusters. But its delicately fluted polish is a more notable character.

    The plate is out of the Floræ Danicæ, a beautiful series of engravings of the flowers of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, which was begun in 1761, and is still continuing. The change, during this period, in the character of the engravings, will become interesting to you in time. They are, throughout, indeed, executed with intense and admirable care, but at first, and until the end of last century, in pure love of flowers, and art, and wholesome knowledge; while since more and more every year, they have been degraded in ambitious skill, serving the pride of science.

    This plate was published in 1794. It is a line-engraving, coloured by hand; and is entirely exemplary; except that it has no letters for explanation, which I rudely add, the good old paper bearing my ink bravely.

    Suppose the portion B. fitted to A., you have a full grown rush, real size.

    C., a single cluster of the blossom.

    D., a separate blossom, not opened.

    E., a complete blossom, magnified.

    F., its stamens (yellow), seed-vessel (green), and three-branched pistil (white).

    The Danish draughtsman, for all his skill, could not draw a rush-blossom in perspective; we will try presently to do that for him. The triangular groups are a. b. c.; d. e. f.; though they look as if clustered in the order a. d. c.; f. b. e.

    From this obscure blossom, then, are developed the four great orders of the Drosidæ. I do not mean that they are developed in the Darwinian sense, but developed in conception. It is not of the least consequence to you at present, whether the Darwinian theory be true or false; nor should you at present trouble yourselves about any theory, but only be clear in your minds about the fact, that great orders of plants and living creatures are formed in subtle variations upon one appointed type, like a musician’s variations on an air, yet changing gradually towards another type, and approaching so close, where they meet, that they seem to join. I do not believe they join: but it is no matter whether they do or not; the classes themselves are, in main types, perfectly distinct.

    Of the four orders of beautiful rush blossom, I only want you to attend at present to the Amaryllids and Irids, of which you are familiar enough with the simplest representatives—snowdrop and crocus. When you want to remember the four, all together, say, Snowdrop and crocus, jacinth and lily, because the form Jacinth runs more prettily and shortly than Hyacinth.

  • Ruskin's Rudimentary series, 5th ed. (1873)

    R|1} The rush, and its star-blossom; first of kingly flowers. E. (Floræ Danicæ.

    So we will begin with the Rush.

    R. 1. Juncus lævis. Smooth rush. (Common rush of English pond and moor; and are for carpet, chair, and candle.)

    The smooth rush is Ray’s name for it. Linnæus called it the clustered rush, because it grows in thick clusters. But its delicately fluted polish is a more notable character.

    The plate is out of the Floræ Danicæ, a beautiful series of engravings of the flowers of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, which was begun in 1761, and is still continuing. The change, during this period, in the character of the engravings, will become interesting to you in time. They are, throughout, indeed, executed with intense and admirable care, but at first, and until the end of last century, in pure love of flowers, and art, and wholesome knowledge; while since, more and more every year, they have been degraded in ambitious skill, serving the pride of science.

    This plate was published in 1794. It is a line-engraving, coloured by hand; and is entirely exemplary, except that it has no letters for explanation, which I rudely add, the good old paper bearing my ink bravely.

    Suppose the portion B. fitted to A., you have a full grown rush, real size.

    C., a single cluster of the blossom.

    D., a separate blossom, not opened.

    E., a complete blossom, magnified.

    F., its stamens (yellow), seed-vessel (green), and three-branched pistil (white).

    The Danish draughtsman, for all his skill, could not draw a rush-blossom in perspective; we will try presently to do that for him. The triangular groups are a. b. c.; d. e. f.; though they look as if clustered in the order a. d. c.; f. b. e.

    From this obscure blossom, then, are developed the four great orders of the Drosidæ. I do not mean that they are developed in the Darwinian sense, but developed in conception. It is not of the least consequence to you at present, whether the Darwinian theory be true or false; nor should you at present trouble yourselves about any theory, but only be clear in your minds about the fact, that great orders of plants and living creatures are formed in subtle variations upon one appointed type, like a musician’s variations on an air, yet changing gradually towards another type, and approaching so close, where they meet, that they seem to join. I do not believe they join: but it is no matter whether they do or not; the classes themselves are, in main types, perfectly distinct.

    Of the four orders of beautiful rush blossom, I only want you to attend at present to the Amaryllids and Irids, of which you are familiar enough with the simplest representatives—snowdrop and crocus. When you want to remember the four, all together, say, Snowdrop and crocus, jacinth and lily, because the form Jacinth runs more prettily and shortly than Hyacinth.

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