Now the capital of the United Kingdom, London was in Ruskin 's time the capital and heart of the British Empire. Located on the Thames River in southeastern England, forty miles from the estuary which leads into the North Sea, London has a history which dates back beyond the Roman occupation. In the first decades of the nineteenth century the population of London reached over one million, and small villages and hamlets in the surrounding area were rapidly swallowed up by the growing city. The social, commercial, theatrical and artistic centre of the kingdom, much of its immense wealth came from the profits of the East and West Indies' trade. The nineteenth century saw the introduction of omnibuses, gas street lighting, the building of new bridges across the Thames and the opening of a steam railway system. By the time of Ruskin's death the population of Greater London had risen to six and a half million.

Ruskin was born at number 54 Hunter Street, Brunswick Square in London, on 8 February 1819. When he was four years of age the Ruskins moved to 28 Herne Hill, Camberwell, then on London's southern outskirts; then when he was 20 to nearby Denmark Hill near Dulwich. Here the paintings in the Dulwich Gallery formed much of the basis for the first volume of Modern Painters, the first draft of which was written at Herne Hill. He returned there following the annulment of his marriage to Euphemia Chalmers Gray in July 1854. He sold the house at Denmark Hill after his mother's death in 1871 and moved to Brantwood, on Coniston Water. He remained there until his death on 20 January 1900 and is buried in Coniston churchyard.