The dichotomy between conservative critics and progressive critics which characterised the reception of Modern Painters I was usefully summarised in Macmillan's Magazine, October 1870 (see here): 'There are few men of our time who have been more largely praised or more bitterly attacked than Mr Ruskin'. The reception of Modern Painters I is more clearly understood when situated in the context of social, political and religious change during the nineteenth century. Ruskin's empirical approach to aesthetics divided the critics, who used their reviews to further the ideological interests of the periodical in they were published, into two camps. Interpreted as a challenge to the traditional aesthetic authority of Reynolds's Discourses on Art (1769-90) by the conservative Blackwood's Magazine and the Athenaeum, Modern Painters I was welcomed by progressive critics, particularly those writing for the periodicals of dissent, for returning to nature as the basis of aesthetic judgment. The reception of Ruskin's writing can thus be seen in terms of a struggle for cultural authority between critics who supported the aesthetic values of the establishment and those who wished to challenge them (see Pierre Bourdieu, Rules of Art).
Following the publication of Modern Painters II in April 1846, Modern Painters I was reviewed through the lens of Ruskin's other works. The third edition of Modern Painters I was often reviewed together with Modern Painters II. Reviews of the fifth edition of Modern Painters I, published in September 1851, reflect not only the publication of The Stones of Venice I in March that year, but also Ruskin's support for the controversial paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites both in The Times in May 1851, and in his pamphlet entitled Pre-Raphaelitism (August 1851). The publication of Modern Painters III in 1856 prompted the Quarterly Review and the Edinburgh Review, establishment periodicals which had previously ignored Modern Painters I, to review Ruskin's writing for the first time.
The reviews of Modern Painters I published between 1843 and 1856 can be divided into four sections:
1. Reviews published before the publication of Modern Painters II (1846) - Reviews of Modern Painters I, May 1843-March 1846
2. Reviews published following the publication of Modern Painters II (1846), when Ruskin increasingly drew support from periodicals with a (dissenting) religious bias - Reviews of Modern Painters I, July 1846-January 1848
3. Reviews published following the publication of The Stones of Venice I (1851), when Ruskin and Modern Painters I became linked in the public mind with the Pre-Raphaelites - Reviews of Modern Painters I, September 1851-December 1855
4. Reviews prompted by the publication of Modern Painters III - Reviews of Modern Painters I, March 1856-November 1856, when the attack on Ruskin by conservative critics prompted progressive critics to come to his defence.