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BRITISH VISUAL CULTURE AND SOCIETY

IN THE 19TH CENTURY


John Ruskin was born on 8 February 1819 at Hunter Street, London, the only child of
Margaret and John James Ruskin. His father was a very prosperous wine merchant who was
interested in collecting art and he encouraged his son’s literary activities, while his mother
dedicated her son to the God and wished for him to become an Anglican priest. Ruskin
received his education at home and wasn’t allowed to play with other kids and toys. In the
age of eleven and encouraged by his father he published his first poem and four years later
his first prose work. Ruskin attended Christ Church College at Oxford, graduating in 1843
with a MA.

Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelits were the founding fathers of the meaning of defending
new ‘British Art’. He became known as a brilliant critic of landscape painting and a
champion of the works of the painter J.M.W. Turner and the Pre-Raphaelits. He was the
supporter of Turner and the Pre-Raphaelits by his commitment to challenging both critical
and public opinion that was not always sympathetic. He later became chair of Fine Arts at
Oxford University. John Ruskin, after all, was an artist, scientist, poet, environmentalist, and
philosopher.

Ruskin is viewed by many as a member of a group of Englishmen who began the Arts
and Crafts movement in that nation in the later half of the 19th century. Ruskin’s contributions
to the era included his acknowledge dislike for classical works in buildings and Art and his
substitution of the Gothic with his asymmetry and roughness as the ideal for new art. Along
with William Morris, he was critical of the new industrialization taking place in Europe and
America.

Ruskin’s most radical idea was his total rejection of any machine produced products.
He characterized all machine made objects as ‘dishonest’. He believed along with Morris,
that handwork and dexterity brought integrity to work. He further felt that the industrial work
of the age disturbed the natural rhythms of life by imposing mock hours and conditions on
workers. Ruskin said that: ‘The work of art should in some way be original’. To this end he
founded a utopian Arts and Crafts community in 1871. It was called Arts and Crafts for
aesthetic and social reform. In the views of John Ruskin, William Morris and other nineteenth
century romantic medievalists, modernism was a spiritual, national and economic movement,
a new and different artistic consideration that was destined to regenerate British culture.
Architecture is the art that shelters man, expresses his needs and his entire nature. As
Ruskin explains when he compares architecture to painting, poetry and sculpture: ‘A picture
or poem is often little more then a weak expression of man’s admiration of something out of
himself, but architecture approaches more to a creation of his own, born of his necessities and
expressive of his nature. It is also, in some sort, the work of the whole race, while the picture
or statue is the work of one only’. Architecture, then, is in some sense a group enterprise and
while it expresses both the nature of the men for whom he builds and that of the workers
whose skill carries out his intentions. St Mark’s church, for example expresses the free
vitality of men who carved its capitals and erected his walls.

His theory of the sister arts is important because it led him to invent a philosophy of
beauty appropriate to both painting and poetry. It has often been commented that
aestheticians tend to found their conceptions of the beautiful upon the arts with which they
are most familiar. Ruskin’s concern with painting led him to formulate his theory of Typical
Beauty, which draws its details, that is, the visual, the external and the element of form. Vital
Beauty, on the other hand, is the beauty of living things, depends on the internal made
external, on expression.

As for the painting he wrote his father in 1852, “there is a strong instinct in me, whom
I cannot analyse, to draw and describe the things I love-not for reputation, not for the good of
others, not for my own advantage, but a sort of instinct, like that for eating and drinking. It is
obvious how simple a person he was. He was at his best when he drew exactly what he saw.
He drew continuously and developed a method of focusing on a detail. By using these details
as visual aids during his lectures, he exhibited more of his work in public than is realised.

John Ruskin was the founder of one museum in Sheffield. <When he set it up, he
called it the ‘Museum of St George’, and it was one of four sites of the Guild of St George, a
body that existed to disclose the views of Ruskin. The museum contained pictures and
sketches by Ruskin himself, most particularly of alpine scenes, of bird’s, feathers and
sculpture. There were a lot of alpine scenes both for their beauty and because Ruskin had a
great interest in geology, especially of landscapes created by glaciers.

As well as the museum, there was a botanical garden at Mickley in Derbyshire, which
researched methods of growing fruit trees in the Northern England climate, and at Bewdley
an estate of woodlands and fields, which Ruskin aimed to protect from rampant industrial
development all around>.•

There is also another museum, <The Ruskin Museum>, at Coniston in the English
Lake District. The Ruskin Museum won an Interpret British Award in 2000 and a
commendation in the Civic Trust Awards for 2001

<The University of Lancaster holds a virtually complete collection of Ruskin’s works


and a fine collection of Ruskin’s manuscripts, drawings and watercolours>.♣

Ruskin is most famous for his books: His works established the criteria for judging
the value of arts for several generations in both Britain and America and influenced
remarkable people. ‘The Modern Painters’, Ruskin believed to be the movement from the
problems of art to the problems of society. The first volume of ‘The Modern Painters’ was
published anonymously as the work of ‘A graduate of Oxford’ in May 1843 and the second
volume in April 1846 and established him as Britain’s foremost art critic. His book on the
gothic ‘The Seven Lamps Of Architecture’ was published in 1849, the year of his marriage to
Effie Gray. The ‘lamps’ were the moral tenets governing good building design. ‘The Stones
Of Venice’ (1853), is more than an architectural history, it is a discourse on the rise, gradual
decline and ultimate downfall of empires, which Ruskin related to the England of his own
time.

John Ruskin game the most he could in the British society. He consisted the start for
many young people for occupying with architecture, painting and literature. He was also the
founder of Anglia Polytechnic University and it is great honour to attend it. I think Britain
must do its best to keep Ruskin and his works in the memory of the people. This will succeed
with galleries, speeches, modules that have to do with Ruskin and oblations in the
newspapers.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
 RUSKIN BY GEORGE P. LANDOW
 JOHN RUSKIN: THE EARLY YEARS BY T.HILTON
 ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF ARTS AND CRAFTS 1850-1920 BY W.KAPLAN
 SELECTION FROM THE WRITINGS OF JOHN RUSKIN BY RUSKIN
AND BRUCE

www.speel.demon.co.uk/other/ruskmus.htm
rylibweb.man.ac.uk/data2/spcoll/ruskin