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John Ruskin: Artist and Observer

John Ruskin: Artist and Observer


Known an a writer on art, architecture, nature, landscape, economics and history, John Ruskin (1819–1900) also produced extraordinary drawings and watercolours that offer insight into the workings of his brilliant mind and are testimony to the scrupulous attention he gave to everything that interested him. These exhilarating works deserve to be appreciated afresh by audiences anew.


Accompanying a landmark exhibition at the National Galleries of Canada and Scotland in 2104, this definitive exploration of a private but hugely revealing aspect of Ruskin’s creative life – representing his entire career and all subject types and degrees of finish and elaboration – will demonstrate how his use of drawing evolved in terms of his most characteristic stylistic traits and how he used the medium in a most distinctive technical manner. Ruskin regarded drawing as a means of focusing his eye and as a discipline of observation, and so he attached small significance to the work itself when completed. Paradoxically, despite the extraordinary skill and emotion his drawings demonstrate, Ruskin has never been acclaimed as the great artist he undoubtedly was.


Drawing was used by Ruskin to express the ecstasy he felt in the presence of transcendent beauty in nature and landscape, as well as in the works of man. His drawings are instantly enjoyable for their immediacy and verve, for their absence of self-consciousness or artistic indulgence, but they also reveal a range of emotional responses and are profoundly informative about the devastating swings of mood that he endured and which fired his massive intellectual creativity as well as his eventual descent into insanity.


In examining alongside the central core of Ruskin’s own drawings those made by artists who were his mentors, friends and followers, this book also aims to give an account of the wider phenomenon which might be called ‘Ruskinism’. It will demonstrate how Ruskin’s own style formed as a result of contact with an older generation of drawing masters, such as Samuel Prout and J.D. Harding. Ruskin’s paramount admiration for J.M.W. Turner, and the story of his advocacy of Turner as the greatest genius of British art, will also be explained. A fascinating and visually rich element of the book are the photographs (Daguerrotypes), including those taken by Ruskin himself or under his immediate supervision. By seeing photographs and drawings together it is possible to identify certain pictorial traits that are characteristic of Ruskinian methods of looking.

  • By Conal Shields et al.

    John Ruskin: Artist and Observer


    By Conal Shields, Ian Jeffrey, Christopher Baker and Christopher Newall


    Paperback, 260 x 216 mm

    376 pages, 240 colour illustrations
    ISBN: 9781907372575

  • Exhibition

    National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

    14 February – 11 May 2014


    National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

    4 July – 28 September 2014

  • In the press

    "A catalogue so sumptuous it is destined to become a key text." –Financial Times

    "Stunning exhibition." New York Review of Books

    "This stout and well-designed volume nicely complements Tim Hilton’s classic biography of John Ruskin."Spectator 


    "A sumptuous catalogue … In an age when it has more often become a book of essays with a vestigial checklist, this is an exemplary exhibition catalogue, in which the opportunity is taken, in full entries with footnotes, to renew close scrutiny of what might seem even the best-known works … up to Paul Holberton's usual high standards." —The Burlington 

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