Ruskin, John (1819-1900) critic, artist and social reformer. Born on 8th February 1819 at 54 Hunter Street, Brunswick Square, London. Son of John James Ruskin (sherry merchant) and Margaret Ruskin (1781-1871) (née Cock, later changed to Cox). Initially educated at home by his mother and as a strict evangelical through close Bible reading from Genesis to Apocalypse (starting again at Genesis the next day). Tutored in Greek by Dr Edward Andrews a congregational minister, and in Mathematics by Mr. Rowbothom. In 1834-1835 he was tutored at the Grove Lane school Peckham, run by the evangelical clergyman Rev. Thomas Dale. He also attended Dale’s lectures at King’s College, London in 1836. His first drawing master was Charles Runciman who gave him lessons in 1831. In 1834 he received drawing lessons from Copley Fielding and from J. D. Harding in 1842. In 1832 Ruskin went on his first extended Continental tour with his parents and saw the Alps for the first time. Matriculated at Christ Church Oxford as a gentleman commoner in 1836 and arrived with his mother in January 1837 to commence his studies. Began his articles on ‘The Poetry of Architecture’ (1837-1838) signed ‘Kata Phusin’ for Louden’s Architectural Magazine. In 1837, met Charles Darwin at a dinner hosted by one of his tutors, Dr Buckland. In 1839 won the Newdigate prize for poetry at his second attempt with his poem Salsette and Elephanta and met William Wordsworth. First met J. M. W. Turner at a dinner given by the dealer Griffiths, possibly in June 1840 (Works, 35.305). During 1840-1841 he travelled with his parents on an extensive continental tour in France and Italy as far as Naples and Amalfi, largely for his health. Awarded B.A., (double fourth) 1842 and M.A., 1843.
Ruskin’s earliest published writing was a poem ‘On Skiddow and Derwentwater’ published in The Spiritual Times in 1830. His first prose work published was ‘Enquiries on the Causes of the Colour of the Water of the Rhine’ in Loudon’s Magazine of Natural History, 1834. He also published articles in Friendship’s Offering for 1835 and in 1836 wrote his first defence of Turner following John Eagles critical article in ‘Blackwood’s Magazine’ of October 1836 (Works, 3.365 [n/a]). In 1843 he published the first volume of Modern Painters by a ‘Graduate of Oxford’ and it was not until the Fifth edition (1851) that his name first appeared on the title page. The second volume was published in 1846, and the third and fourth volumes in 1856. The fifth and final volume did not appear until 1860. Ruskin published The Seven Lamps of Architecture in 1849, illustrated with his own soft-ground etchings. The Stones of Venice, in three volumes, was published from 1851 to 1853. Following Turner’s death in December 1851 Ruskin was appointed an executor of Turner’s will, a position he later declined. He did however arrange the drawings at the National Gallery which Turner had presented to the nation.
In 1848, Ruskin married Euphemia (Effie) Chalmers Gray, daughter of George Gray, a lawyer of Perth. In letters to The Times in 1851 he defended the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and met John Everett Millais who subsequently visited Scotland with Ruskin and his wife in 1853. This ultimately led to the end of their marriage which was annulled in 1854. Effie then married Millais. Ruskin delivered his Lectures on Architecture and Painting, at Edinburgh in 1853, published in the following year. In November 1854, he was appointed to a voluntary post as teacher of ‘Elementary and Landscape drawing’ at the Working Men’s College, Red Lion Square, (later at Great Ormond Street), London, a position he held until 1858. This experience led to the publication of two works on drawing, The Elements of Drawing (1859) and The Elements of Perspective (1859). A third volume, The Laws of Fesole, did not appear until 1877-1878.
Following the death of his father, John James Ruskin on 3 March 1864, he inherited a large personal fortune which he used in part to promote many of his social experiments including the founding and development of the Guild of St George. During the 1860s he concentrated his attention on social issues and political economy publishing Unto this Last, initially in the Cornhill Magazine in 1860 and Munera Pulveris firstly in Fraser’s Magazine in 1862. From 1871 to 1884 he published Fors Clavigera on a monthly basis (later collected into eight volumes). In 1871 before the death of his mother, he purchased ‘Brantwood’ a small cottage in the Lake District from the engraver and writer W. J. Linton (1812-1897). He was appointed first Slade professor of Fine Art at Oxford, 1870-1879 and 1883-1884 and was made an honorary fellow of Corpus Christi College Oxford. The appointment led to several volumes of published lectures including: Lectures on Art (1870), lectures on Greek sculpture published as Aratra Pentelici (1872), Lectures on Landscape, delivered in 1871, (published 1898), Michelangelo and Tintoret delivered in June 1871, (published 1872), The Eagle’s Nest (1872 ), Ariadne Florentina, delivered in 1876, (published 1873-1876), Val d’Arno, delivered in 1873, (published 1874) and the Oxford lectures on English and Greek birds published as Love’s Meinie (1873-1881). In conjunction with the professorship Ruskin founded a drawing school at Oxford (now The Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art) and endowed a mastership in drawing.
Ruskin’s choice of a home in the Lake District led to involvement in many local concerns. He encouraged the work of the local primary school, Ruskin Lace making and several industrial experiments, including the revival of the linen industry in Langdale and the development of a cloth industry at Laxey in the Isle of Man. He also acted as club critic for the Keswick Sketching Club. From 1878 he suffered from periods of depression and mental illness and was unable to complete his autobiography Praeterita which was published in twenty-eight parts and at intervals from 1885 to 1889. He died on 20th January 1900 following an attack of influenza, and was buried in Coniston churchyard.
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