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

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

John Ruskin and the Geographical Imagination

Denis Cosgrove selects works from Ruskin’s Teaching Collection and reveals a poetry of landscape that inspired geographical learning a century ago.

John Ruskin and the Geographical Imagination

Collection Trails: 31 objects

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Study of Gneiss Rock, Glenfinlas John Ruskin

  • Curator’s description:

    Description

    The drawing shows a large piece of gneiss, with a stream rushing beneath it, grass and small plants growing from its top, and small trees visible behind it on the right. The rock was in Glen Finglas ('Glenfinlas'), and the stream is presumably Finglas Water or one of its tributaries. The same piece of rock appears in the background of John Everett Millais's famous portrait of "Ruskin at Genfinlas" (1853-4, private collection), in the background on the left edge (the rock in the water in the bottom right corner of the drawing appears behind Ruskin's right knee in the painting). The drawing is taken from further upstream than Millais's painting and, apparently, closer to the edge of the water. Ruskin described the setting - chosen by Millais - in a letter to his father on 6 July 1853, as 'a lovely piece of worn rock, with foaming water and weeds and moss, and a noble overhanging bank of dark crag' (XII.xxiv); and later, writing to Lady Trevelyan on 6 September, as 'a beautiful piece of Torrent bed overhung by honeysuckle and mountain ash' (Reflections of a Friendship: John Ruskin's letters to Pauline Trevelyan, 1848-1866, ed. Virginia Surtees, London (Allen & Unwin): 1979, p. 57).

    The drawing was presumably begun at about the same time as the painting, in early July 1853; Penny suggests 19 July, when Ruskin drew but Millais had a headache. Writing in "Praeterita" more than 30 years later, Ruskin described the drawing as 'Two months' work in what fair weather could be gleaned out of that time' (vol. III, § 10 = XXXV.483). However, Ruskin records finishing the work in his diary entry for 8 February 1854 (Diaries, vol. II, p. 490) - although he later described it as unfinished: it 'really had a chance of being finished, but the weather broke; and the stems in the upper righthand corner had to be rudely struck in with body-colour' (Notes on Drawings by Turner, no. 45.R(a) = XIII.524.)

    The drawing was first catalogued in the Oxford collection in 1906, when Cook and Wedderburn included it as no. 89 in the Reference Series - one of a set of frames (nos 84-100) which Ruskin had never listed in his own catalogues of the collection.

    Writing of the drawing in his 1878 Turner catalogue, Ruskin apparently considered the foliage as important as the rock: he titled it 'Gneiss, with its weeds'. He considered that 'all the mass of this rock is carefully studied with good method'. In his lecture on light and shade, delivered on 9 February 1871, Ruskin apparently showed the drawing, with an overlaid outline, to illustrate the ways in which outlines should not be expressive, indicating the character of what they depicted, but should merely record its visible contours. (Lectures on Landscape, § 34 = XXII.34-35 & n. 1.)

    Ruskin made much of gneiss - notably in vol. IV of "Modern Painters", describing, for example, its undulations, 'of exquisite beauty' (vol. IV, ch. ix, § 5 = VI.148-9); and later in "Deucalion".

    A smaller and less finished sketch by Ruskin of the water and rocks shown in the lower right-hand corner of this drawing is in the collection of the Ruskin Foundation (no. 2026).

    Despite the fact that he made it during the holiday in Glenfinlas when his wife, Effie, was falling in love with Millais, Ruskin seems to have been proud of the drawing, having it photographed so that William Ward could supply prints of it (XXI. 34 n. 7 and XXXVIII.97). When making it, he seems to have intended it as an illustration for vol. III of "Modern Painters" (see the letter to Lady Trevelyan, cited above).

  • Details

    Artist/maker
    John Ruskin (1819 - 1900)
    Object type
    drawing
    Material and technique
    lampblack, bodycolour and pen and ink over graphite on wove paper, with some scratching out
    Dimensions
    478 x 327 mm
    Associated place
    Provenance

    Presumably presented by John Ruskin to the Ruskin Drawing School (University of Oxford); first recorded in the Ruskin Drawing School in 1906; transferred from the Ruskin Drawing School to the Ashmolean Museum c.1949

    No. of items
    1
    Accession no.
    WA.RS.REF.089
  • Subject terms allocated by curators:

    Subjects

  • References in which this object is cited include:

    References

    Ruskin, John, ‘The Works of John Ruskin’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), XII, pl. I, f.p. xxvi

    Taylor, Gerald, ‘John Ruskin: A Catalogue of Drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford’, 7 fascicles, 1998, Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, no. 049

    Ruskin, John, ‘Lectures on Landscape: Delivered at Oxford in Lent Term, 1871’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 22

    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. Reference no. 89

    Cook, Edward T., Studies in Ruskin: Some Aspects of the Work and Teaching of John Ruskin (Orpington: George Allen, 1890), pl. XIII, p. 324

    Ruskin, John, Reflections of a Friendship: John Ruskin's Letters to Pauline Trevelyan, 1848-1866, ed. Virginia Surtees (London: Allen and Unwin, 1979)

    Ruskin, John, ‘Notes By Mr. Ruskin ... on His Drawings by the Late J. M. W. Turner, R. A., [and] on His Own Handiwork Illustrative of Turner’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 13, no. 45.R(a) = XIII.524

    Ruskin, John, ‘Praeterita: Outlines of Scenes and Thoughts Perhaps Worthy of Memory in My Past Life’, Edward T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, eds, The Works of John Ruskin: Library Edition, 39 (London: George Allen, 1903-1912), 35

    Penny, Nicholas, Ruskin's Drawings, Ashmolean - Christie's Handbooks (London: Phaidon, 1988), no. 11

    Ruskin, John, The Diaries of John Ruskin, ed. Joan Evans and John Howard Whitehouse, 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956-1959)

Location

    • Western Art Print Room

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