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A leading art critic, novelist, philosopher, and polymath of the Victorian era, John Ruskin was also a draftsman who went on to establish the Ruskin School of Drawing at the University of Oxford in 1869.
John Ruskin was involved in a number of fields, including geology, mythology, architecture, ornithology, education, political economy, botany, and of course, literature. He is famously known for his writings, such as 'Modern Painters' and 'The Seven Lamps of Architecture'.
While dealing with different topics of writing, John Ruskin's literary form and style were equally varied. His approach was through essays, poems, lectures, treatises, manuals, travel guides, letters, and also fairy tales, where he dealt with the connections between art, nature, and society. His writing, along with his detailed drawings of any entity, focused on the mere idea of communicating effectively.
Keep reading to learn more about John Ruskin!
The net worth of John Ruskin is not known.
His exact annual income was not known, but given his several sources of income, John Ruskin will have earned substantially for himself.
John Ruskin was 5 ft 10 in (178 cm) tall.
John Ruskin was born on February 8, 1819, and died on January 20, 1900, at the age of 80. The final years of Ruskin's life were spent in worsening health and he was much secluded from social life. So, he used to occasionally have visitors at his home in Cumbria, which is where he then died.
John Ruskin was born to John James and Margaret Ruskin and was their only child.
John Ruskin was born into a wealthy family on Brunswick Square, London. His parents were extremely dedicated to nurturing their only child. His father, John James, a wine merchant, taught him the ideas of Romanticism. Together, they went through the works of Shakespeare, Byron, and Walter Scott. On visiting Walter Scott's house in Abbotsford, Ruskin was not impressed with the architecture, and this trait of architecture criticism was also later seen in his work. On the other hand, his mother, Margaret Ruskin, was an evangelical Christian, who encouraged John Ruskin to read the entire Bible.
John Ruskin spent his childhood at 28 Herne Hill, near Camberwell, South London. He received home-schooling from his parents and private tutors, one of whom introduced him to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Soon, he went to a school in Peckham, which was run by Thomas Dale. He got the opportunity to attend one of Dale's lectures at King's College, London, where Dale was the first English Literature professor. This motivated John Ruskin enough to enroll and graduate from King's College. Here, he took Dale's guidance to apply for Oxford University, where he was admitted.
During his childhood, John Ruskin enjoyed the privileges of traveling and he was exposed to various architecture. In fact, when he was 26 years old, he solo-traveled for the first time. Due to this, he got to study medieval art and architecture in Switzerland, France, and Italy.
In 1847, John Ruskin became close to Euphemia 'Effie' Gray, a family friend's daughter. For her, he penned 'The King of the Golden River', and they got engaged that year. The following year, the couple got married, on April 10, 1848, in Bowerswell in Perth.
John Ruskin and Effie Gray spent their early life at 31 Park St., Mayfair. However, as days passed, the couple realized they were unhappy. John Ruskin was also claimed to be untrustworthy and abusive to Effie. This led to the marriage being annulled after a six-year run, in 1854.
Although John Ruskin is best known for being an art critic and art patron, he was also a polymath, painter and artist, professor, geologist, and a true believer in social and political justice. His works are famously known, including 'Fors Clavigera', 'Modern Painters', 'The Seven Lamps of Architecture', 'Unto This Last', 'The Stones of Venice', and 'Praeterita'. John Ruskin was also a gifted painter, but he focused more on his writings. Also, besides being an art patron and art critic, he was also known for criticizing Ludwig van Beethoven's music.
Upon completing his studies at Oxford University, John Ruskin took up art criticism as his genre of art. With this, he went on to publish the first volume (of a total of five volumes) of his magnum opus, 'Modern Painters', in 1843. Through 'Modern Painters', he wanted to defend JMW Turner's works, which John Ruskin believed were based on truth to nature. So, he incorporated his knowledge of geology, meteorology, and botany to support the fact that Turner's painting spoke of nature in its truest sense, and for this, he went on to publish five volumes of 'Modern Painters' until 1860. While the first volume of 'Modern Painters' was about Turner's works, in the second volume, John Ruskin focused on other artists (Renaissance and pre-Renaissance artists). The fourth volume is particularly impressive as it portrays the geological aspect of the Alps through landscape painting, along with the influence on those living nearby.
Simultaneously, from the 1850s, he upheld the Pre-Rapaelites, as his works increasingly focused on political and social issues. In 1860, he published 'Unto This Last', which was entirely based on how society should thrive on justice for all and he made a personal plea to his readers to help contribute to form. While doing so, he explicitly condemned the negative aspect of industrialism and how commerce has an anti-effect on the natural world. However, his writing was rejected by the conservatives. It should be noted that his writing left a legacy, as Mahatma Gandhi wrote 'Sarvodaya', after finding inspiration in Ruskin's 'Unto This Last'.
Speaking of legacy, his disciples, William Morris and CR Ashbee, preserved his works through the arts and crafts movement. So, his disregard for oppressive standardization and ideas of anti-capitalism led to the inspiration and the consequent establishment of the Arts and Crafts Movement. He was also admired by Proust, who also translated his works into French. Similarly, Ryuozo Mikimoto was proactive in collating John Ruskin's translations in Japan. For this, he not only commissioned sundry commemorative items and sculptures, but also used Ruskinian rose motifs in the jewelry that were available or produced in his pearl empire. Added to this, he founded the Ruskin Society of Tokyo, and his children went on to build a library that was home to all of Ruskin's works.
On a more communal side, many socialist utopians practiced Ruskin's political ideas and several communities, including Ruskin British Columbia, Ruskin Florida, and Ruskin Commonwealth Association were established. Such communities were actively engaged in translating the works that made him a global figure, into Russian, French, Japanese, Italian, German, Catalan, Portuguese, Spanish, Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, Swedish, Dutch, Danish, Czech, Welsh, Chinese, and several Indian languages, such as Esperanto, Kannada, and Gikuyu.
While he focused on writing and art, John Ruskin also took interest in architecture, particularly Gothic, which led him to create 'The Seven Lamps of Architecture'. His take on Gothic architecture is called Ruskinian Gothic. He, along with his friend Henry Acland, went on to establish the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, which was designed by Benjamin Woodward. However, it is reported that the final product did not excite him and he was rather discontented.
Moving forward, after becoming the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford, John Ruskin founded the Ruskin School of Drawing in 1869. His drawing collection, which has 1470 works of art, was used as the study material for the students at the Ruskin School of Drawing and now, they are on display at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Unfortunately, he resigned his office in 1879, when James McNeill Whistler won a libel suit against him.
Being heavily influenced by socialism, John Ruskin wrote 'Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain'. In this, he exposed his ideas of an ideal society, thus leading to the establishment of the Guild of St. George, an organization that is still in existence. This community rebelled against the 19th century establishment of industrial capitalism. Within the organization, Ruskin was known as the Master, and others were called Companions.
Having been associated with Oxford University for a total of five years, he won the Newdigate Prize for poetry during his tenure. At that time, he met William Wordsworth, who was receiving an honorary degree.
Main image credit: www.shutterstock.com/image-vector/john-ruskin-vintage-engraved
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