Ruskin and Oxford: The Art of Education

Ruskin and Oxford: The Art of Education

Ruskin and Oxford: The Art of Education

Ruskin and Oxford: The Art of Education


John Ruskin (1819-1900) was considered the greatest critic of art, culture, and society of the nineteenth century. This lavishly illustrated volume, based on an exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum, explains Ruskin's true intentions in founding the Ruskin School of Drawing at Oxford and describes his lifelong commitment to drawing and its use as a teaching school.


I make no apology for indulging in personal reminiscence. At the age of 13 I took the Oxford Junior examination in which one of the art papers was called 'drawing from the flat'. It required the pupil to enlarge a rather poor photographic image of a Gothic crocket.

A few years later, as an 'artisan' studying art four evenings a week at the University of Reading, my tutor recalled that his first director was W. G. Collingwood, Ruskin's biographer. When I was elevated to the 'gentleman' status of an undergraduate, the university course ran parallel to the Ministry of Education examinations controlled directly from London, and included the South Kensington anatomy papers so abhorrent to Ruskin! The university papers were externally examined by the Ruskin Master of Drawing (Percy Horton).

When the present Master, Stephen Farthing, approached me for support for an exhibition on Ruskin and Oxford, my response and recommendation to my fellow directors was wholehearted. After 120 years since its foundation, the Guild still strives to fulfil its two main objectives; in 'agricultural work' and in education, especially in relation to the visual awareness of the environment. An exhibition with the subtitle 'The Art of Education' was an obvious project for the Guild to sponsor.

The interaction between the Guild and Ruskin's tenure at Oxford is clearly described in Robert Hewison's illuminating introductory essay. The only meeting of the Guild that Ruskin attended was held in Oxford in 1884, when a resolution was passed authorizing the setting up of a museum at Bewdley. This never materialized, like most of Ruskin's grand schemes for Guild museums, schools, and galleries. Nevertheless, his idea that one should learn through the study of a wide range of objects was achieved at Oxford, Sheffield, and at Whitelands College. Hewison quotes Catherine Morley, who observed that Ruskin placed the three venues on a circuit and sent examples at will. The Guild is pleased to loan minerals for this exhibition, especially as they are placed in one of the original cases. This and other items of furniture, together with the reconstruction of the Rudimentary Series, will give the visitor a rare opportunity to evaluate the works in context.

Robert Hewison's earlier publication on the Series is a fine example of his scholarship; but it is his bookJohn Ruskin: The Argument of the Eye, in which he eloquently articulates Ruskin's great mission that to teach drawing 'is to teach you . . .

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