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

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

John Ruskin's Oxford teaching collection

Rupert Shepherd introduces Ruskin's teaching collection and explains its structure.

John Ruskin Oxford teaching collection


The Victorian art critic and polymath John Ruskin (1819-1900) was the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford. During his two terms as Professor (1869-1877 and 1883-1885), he taught his students to draw as a way of educating them in how to look at art and the world around them, believing that ‘To see clearly is poetry, prophecy, and religion - all in one.’ The drawing school which he endowed is today’s Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art.

Ruskin divided the Collection into four main series. The Standard (abbreviated to ‘Std’) and Reference (‘Ref’) Series contained exemplary works of art or reproductions of them, whilst the Educational (‘Ed’) and Rudimentary (‘Rud’) Series provided practical examples. The Rudimentary Series was for students from outside the University; the Educational was for undergraduates. 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). 

However, its incorporation into the Ashmolean’s collection in the last century meant that the Collection was removed from the frames and the sequence was lost.

The following introduction to the collection was written to accompany a display held in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 5 October-12 December 2004.

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