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Unpublished manuscript catalogue for proposed re-organisation of the Rudimentary series.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 / 12th Cabinet / 1st Section

  • Wilson, Richard - Arpinum 276.

    Sketch by Richard Wilson, in English low-lands, given to show the state of landscape-art just before Turner broke into it with a new light. Wilson is a thoroughly great Painter and this drawing is not to cast contempt upon him, but upon the kind of teaching which landscapists received in the Century. Nor is the sketch given as faultful in manner on the contrary it is wholly exemplary in manner;; it is only faultful in representation of fact: not one of the lines here pretending to represent trees rendering truly any any one fact of stem or foliage, but only recording for the Painter the position of masses which had interested him, and out of which he felt himR. self able to compose an impressive Picture. Of the manner of this composition I shall speak in another place. It is entirely artistic and, in the xviiith century import of the word, gentlemanly in the highest degree, and this quality is one rarely to be obtained in the xixth Century.

  • 277.

    The upper subject is a sketch of my own on the shore of the Lake of Neuf-chatel, more or less faithfully rendering the forms of trees falling into irregular groups among the clefts of Jura limestone. Now, as compared with Richard Wilson, I am a mere baby in artistic faculty, but I was taught by Turner faithfully to follow the contour of vegetation, and I believe the student will at once see the difference between fallacy and truth of Landscape-form in the sense in which these words were used throughout the First Volume of Modern Painters, which was occupied exclusively in the assertion of the unveracity of the then existing school of Landscape, as opposed to Turner’s. And I give my own work, instead of Turner’s, here, because I can vouch for the actual existence of every bough that I drew, having myself no power of composition; whereas in a Turner’s sketch (such as Educational Series 131. ) there are always additions R. or subtractions of branches, here or there, as Turner chose, and even some vestige, in the earliest examples, of the pitch-fork botany of his Masters: while I, being taught by him only, have really in this sketch got a little closer to literal ligneous form than he did himself till later times. (The lower subject in this Frame will be changed. It is a village near Verona).

  • 278.

    Having shown the difference of the two schools, I now go on to give examples of the methods of study for the ascertainment of natural tree-form. This, a first wash, giving the basis of colour for completely painting a section of a Birch-trunk. Often no more than this will be necessary to carry away a reminiscence of all that is desired, and the student should always practise doing as much as he can with a first dash, properly distributed and enriched as it dries.

  • 279.

    The same subject more advanced, and with as much done to it as would ever be necessary in Landscape painting. More completion than this would imply that the block of wood had been studied close to the eye. The base of it here allowed to be seen only R. because one could not otherwise comfortably terminate a portion in which the Perspective of the bands showed it to be above the eye of the spectator.

  • W.S.(2) 31 280.

    Such being the method of studying Trunks, we begin here, I was going to say, the anatomy of Branches; but I ought to say the Study from the Nude. It is no more desirable for Landscape-study to cut trees to pieces or to hack them than it is for Historical Study to cut men to pieces or to flay them: but it is necessary for the student at first to draw the muscular forms of Trees without their leaves as it is for the Historical Painter to draw the forms of Men without their clothes. And it is needful also to draw the extremities of branches with the utmost precision just as Holbein or Mantegna draw beard or eye lashes with the utmost precision. Both the drawings in the example are of the natural size and most carefully studied in the spiral action of the wood. That on the right, a spray of budding oak, was engraved in Modern Painters and should be copied by every student for crucial practice in the diminution of thickness between buds.

  • R.
  • Ruskin, John - The Dryad's Waywardness: Oak Spray in Winter, seen in Profile Edu.S. 265 281.

    The elementary conditions of growth being mastered, the student will advance to the drawing of complete groups of moving spray. I have shown here the easiest method of expressing these and will for once say, as Albert Dürer said of his own work, that it cannot be (much) better done. I am obliged to put in the much because I missed the curves in the middle and had to rub them out and do them again, which stains the paper in that place. Such a study ought not to take more than an hour from beginning to end, supposing no mistake made.

  • Ruskin, John - The Dryad's Toil: Oak Spray in Winter, seen in Front Edu. 266 282.

    The same bough, foreshortened. In work for practice every bough drawn should be thus represented in profile and front; the latter being of extreme importance because the nearest branches of a tree will always be so seen, and in a branch, as in a boat, the more or less foreshortened views are always the prettiest. [The stains on the paper here are intentional; I wanted more shade to throw up the light touches and liked it better irregularly put on]. Both this and the last example were admirably engraved by Mr. Armitage in Modern Painters.

  • R.
  • 283.

    Having mastered the action of the branch-extremities, we proceed to put the leaves on them. Leaf-studies are always to be made in Spring, because the full nervous power and action of the leaf is only then exhibited; and also the relative forms of the opening buds, which are always of extreme beauty, are learned at the same time. It is always best, as in this instance, to allow considerable darkness in the background, that the contour of the whole group may be thrown out in light, allowing full depth of shade for explanation of the muscular structure. Such studies must always be made without leaving the spot and, as far as possible, even without change of posture, and always from growing boughs; so that it is not possible that they should be more elaborated than in this case. This Drawing was made, lying down, from a shoot of young Sycamore, near the root.

  • 284.

    After the structure of leaves has been thoroughly mastered, the student is to make memoranda of their Forms as seen against the light; for which the method shown in this Example entirely suffices, R. indicating at the same time, approximately, the method of transition in colour, and the characteristic tones in each Tree. In these studies, however, the outline is the main object, and everything else is to be made subordinate to the precision of that.

  • Armytage, James Charles - Engraving of John Ruskin's Drawing of the Dryad's Crown: Oak Leaves in Autumn Edu. 264 285. Dryad’s Crown

    Knowing thus the facts of structure accurately, the student will proceed to learn their value in Composition by choosing Forms for complete study which can be finished at his leisure. Any group of dried leaves, falling into beautiful arrangements, may be carried home from the Autumnal woods and drawn as carefully as we please. This piece of withered oak falls, as is constantly the case, almost exactly into the form of one of the terminal crockets in the Flamboyant Gothic of the French, which was, indeed, studied entirely from the Autumnal foliage of their forests. I have lost the drawing, to my great regret: but this proof of Mr. Armitage’s beautiful engraving does it more than justice, and deserves most honourable place in our Series as an example of English line-work, imitating even the freest touches of body-colour white in my sketch. A more or less characteristic R. example of the forms of architectural ornament, derived from the withered leaves and entangled or fallen branches of the Woods of Picardy, may be seen in the bracket under the statue of the Madonna, and the door-lintel beneath that, in 289.

  • Ruskin, John - Sketch of the Oak Spray in Mantegna's Fresco of "The Martyrdom of Saint James" in the Church of the Eremitani, Padua 286.

    We are now able to understand a piece of real ornamental Foliage by a great Master. This spray of Oak is the extremity of a branch of Mantegna in the Frescoes at Padua. It is painted with a free hand just as easily as a good draughtsman writes, but every leaf, down to its smallest lobe, is arranged in ornamental relations as strict as those of the leafage on a Greek coin. (Compare Educational Series No. 30 .) But Mantegna always thought more of his Classical Masters than of Nature, and therefore this spray, though perfect as a Composition, is not quite perfect as a piece of Oak.

  • Ruskin, John - Drawing of a Branch of Oak from Cima's "Saint John the Baptist with Saints Peter, Mark, Jerome and Paul" 287.

    But here we have perfect Composition, and perfect Oak as well. This spray is one of Cima’s, behind the St. John the Baptist in the church of St. Mary of the Garden. Each leaf is drawn by the great master virtually with one touch of the brush, modifying it at its edge with R. the same care that a Florentine Master gives to his penned outline, such visible outline being an essential characteristic in the best Florentine schools, as the absence of it in the best Venetian. I have painted this Spray only in sepia that it may be more easily copied by young students.

  • 288.

    Another spray of Cima’s, from the same picture, showing the grace of some lateral boughs and approximating to the true colour. It completes the code of examples needful to explain the system of Tree-drawing constant among the great Masters, and to be permanently followed under the Laws of Fiesole.

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