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

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

Ruskin's revision to the Rudimentary series (1878)

Unpublished manuscript catalogue for proposed re-organisation of the Rudimentary series.

Rudimentary manu Cover

Catalogue / 10th Cabinet / 1st Section

  • Ruskin, John - Enlarged Outline of a Violet Leaf, with a life-size Leaf below 226.

    This group consists of exercises in plant-drawing, directed especially to the marking of structure. The violet leaf here drawn is represented, at the top, of its natural size, below magnified with an ordinary pocketlens. It is given as an extremely difficult example, both the branching and serration being irregular; nor have I yet been able to arrive myself at any satisfactory mode of expressing the gradation of the ribs into their cellular tissue. Yet I mean this piece to remain in the school to give what encouragement it may to the pupils who, I hope, in numbers will succeed in doing better; and also as an illustration of the special requirement in such studies. The stalk is represented as twisted because it was twisted, although for the purposes of analysis it would have been much more advantageous to have pinned it down straight, but the essential characters of plants are only to be learned by drawing them in the positions they naturally fall into, and not by forcing them into those which are convenient to us.

  • 227.

    Leaf of Francesca Geum, magnified and drawn in plan R. and profile with extreme care, as far as regards outline. It will be seen that the determinations of the plan are carried by measured lines to the profile. The more perfect students can make themselves the better in this exercise, both for their taste and skill, in the drawing of all vegetation; while they will continually receive great er and greater pleasure in the observation of the varieties of structure presented by the architecture of leaves, not only in the drawing of the terminal curves, but the vaulted application of the strength of the stem to support them. Let, however, the contour drawings in the manner of this example be always sketched in broad masses. The attempt to combine the structure of the ribs with the measurement of the external lobes would require for its success a precision quite impossible to average students.

  • 228.

    Sketch of a complete plant of Francesca Geum, made very fast with the lead, showing lightly the relation of the chiaroscuro in the leaves, the mode of their clustering and springing as they rise out of the central stalk, and the use of their thick substance in exhibiting their lovely serration by light in the R. edges. Nothing in the most beautiful xiiith century ornament can be more perfect than the stalk and young leaves of this plant, and I consider this one of my best drawings, & wish it to be copied by every student of foliage, not once nor twice, but until he has got it at the same rate of execution nearly right. It ought not to take more than an hour’s work.

  • 229.

    Another study of the same plant in a slightly different position, with more attention paid to the perspective of the leaves, and greater force allowed in the light and shade. The comparative failure in result may show the student how in chiaroscuro, as in other matters, the half is often better than the whole.

  • Ruskin, John - Two Studies of a Flower of Kidney-Leaved London Pride ('Francesca Geum') W.S(2) 29 230.

    Flower of Francesca Geum magnified to show the varieties of form obtained by its position. The flower is actually a symmetrical star, and is always described by botanists as being so, the shape of the petal being approximately in all five that of the lowermost in the upper figure. The botanists never think of observing which way a plant twists its petals, that appearing to them an automatic action of no importance. R. Still less do they ever think of noticing whether there are any constant relations between the buds and the flower in their position on the flower-stem, whereas it frequently happens that the entire character and composition of a plant, considered artistically, depends upon these humourous habits of behaviour. Thus the olive-blossom practically always consists, during the early Spring, of two open flowers set level with two buds set across below them. The wild strawberry-blossom, in like man ner, always consists of one flower open, with one bud below it at an accurately fixed distance, and this Francesca blossom, in like manner, always consists of one flower open, and two buds set at fixed distance below it and depressed from the stalk (see lower figure), while the open blossom uniformly places itself so as to have one of its five petals pointing downwards, and advances this petal toward the light while it curves the two upper ones back from it (see also lower figure). The result of this arrangement is that when we gather the whole stalk of blossoms and look at it near we get various perspectives of the beautiful profile seen in the lower figure, while the flower in front has its R. lower petal seen at full length, as in the upper figure, the two lateral ones a little shorter, and the two upper conceal their extremities so as to round off their points altogether; and thus the whole flower associates itself in aspect with quite different families, like the Pelargoniums which have unequal leaves in their cinque-foil. This sketch is also useful in showing the scattered administration of colour in the Francescas by fragments and points; the ten stamens arranged in an outer and inner circle placing themselves between the petals in the wider circle and above the petals in the narrower - the effect of the whole being completed by the dashes of darker red on the petals themselves from which red stigmata the plant is now called Francesca in our School-botany. The sketch was made only to illustrate these points, it is much too careless to be copied; but I wish my botanical scholars to make studies of this kind of every wild blossom, not at all as paintings of them, but as notes of their mode of growth and methods of colour.

  • 231.

    Dried blossom of the common rush. What I have been saying of the value of position in flowers R. is infinitely more true with respect to the lower families of the sedges and grasses, whose beauty depends altogether upon their methods of arrangement, not on the individual blossoms. I do hope, before I leave this world, to be able to draw the head of a noble grass-blossom. In this and the two next following drawings I have done my best to represent the action of the blossom in the simplest and humblest of the great family which is the type, as it is the sustenance, of the flesh of man. There is one great advantage in the rush-blossom as a model, that, once dry, it will keep for I know not what number of years. I think it must be at least five years since I made this study, but the model of it unchanged is still in my drawer at Brantwood. I think the placing of its masses is nearly right, but they ought every one to have been rounded like the silver embroidery in the Queen’s saddle housings in No.110.

  • 232.

    Rush-blossom, drawn larger. Not being able to satisfy myself with the last example, I drew it again in black and white, now thinking chiefly of the lines of the fine stems. The plant must have been turned into a slightly different postition, for I cannot believe that R. I ever should have made such variation between the two drawings from mere carelessness. However, the second satisfying me as little as the first, I tried a third which is the following example.

  • 233.

    This is sufficiently successful and may be copied with advantage for practice in rapid modelling over pencil. The rounding of the stem in particular is well done and the masses are now placed in right succession. Nobody but Correggio could have given the light and shade correctly rightly with free touches such as these, but after copying them the student will know better what Correggio’s drawing of vegetation is.

  • Ruskin, John - A Snake's-Head Fritillary now 236 234.

    This study of the simplest of the lilies, happily the one so native to our own Oxford, is made almost entirely with reference to its form and that of the grass out of which it grows, but the colour is fairly well observed and the whole piece excellent for practice.

  • 235.

    Ink drawing, washed with neutral tint, of the meadow-orchis; to my own mind one ot the best I ever made and, I think, interesting in the way it shows how the R. mind may be satisfied without colour, if only the light and shade be rich and careful and the outlines scrupulously accurate.

  • Ruskin, John - Study of an Ear of Wheat: Side View, magnified 237 236.

    Magnified study of ear of corn form the rough side. Another exercise in placing of masses.

  • Ruskin, John - Study of foreground Material: finished Sketch in Watercolour from Nature now 133 237.

    Wild-rose, running in a cleft of Derbyshire limestone, allowed place here merely to show the way in which it is desirable to study fore-grounds. My own drawings have always been made so exclusively for engraving that I have scarcely any coloured ones myself of such subjects, except in a worse style of early time which I cannot give for practice from. This is allowed to retain its place, chiefly as the companion of the next example; but its subject is pretty, and the ease with which it may be copied will encourage a modest student.

  • Ruskin, John - Study of Wild Rose remains 238.

    Not so in this following example - a sketch made expressly for these schools to show the degree of attention with which rapid studies should be made for landscape foliage. It will be seen that the leaves are in almost R. every case laid first with a single wash of colour and never retouched more than once. It is impossible to get a true study of a complex branch of rose unless done at this pace, for the buds always open or the leaves of the open flowers drop in the course of an hour. The exertion of attention in doing such a piece of work as this is to me the hardest task of any in art-practice and in this particular case the exhaustion brought on by doing this drawing before breakfast was, I believe, the beginning of my Matlock illness, by which the completion of the other study (237) was prevented.

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