Oxford, as an institution and as an ideal, profoundly influenced the course of Ruskin's material and intellectual career. Equally, Oxford owes Ruskin a great deal. When he broke with the University, an angry and disappointed man, even his closest friends at Oxford must have been relieved to see him go. Yet in the hundred years and more since then the value of his contribution has come to be better appreciated.
The object of this exhibition is to recall that contribution, and to recover some of Ruskin's true intentions. His connection with Oxford is set within the context of his lifelong commitment to the art of drawing, and to the development of drawing as an educational tool. The story is told through Ruskin's own drawings, and the work of those he chose to help him in a project that was central to his social and critical beliefs.
The exhibition is introduced by portraits of those most closely connected with the Ruskin School of Drawing (1-5). It is followed by a sequence illustrative of Ruskin's connection with Oxford, and his role as a teacher of drawing, from his days as an undergraduate in the 1830s to his becoming the University's first Slade Professor of Art in the 1870s (6-18). His work as a teacher at Oxford is represented by some of the larger works he created in addition to his drawings (19-21), and a sequence of images selected from the teaching collection which he constructed as a visual aid for the Drawing School (22-41). The selection has been made so as to illustrate the range and sequence of subjects in the teaching collection, from rocks, flowers, birds, and trees to landscape and then architecture and fine art.
As a demonstration of Ruskin's approach to the teaching of drawing, and in order to show how his sequential system worked, there follows a reconstruction of the contents of the twenty-five frames in the first cabinet of what Ruskin called the Rudimentary Series. The exhibition also reassembles some of the special furniture Ruskin presented to the Drawing School, and displays those of his many publications which relate to the theme of the exhibition.
In 1919, as part of the celebration to mark the centenary of Ruskin's birth, the trustees of the Ruskin School of Drawing arranged a special exhibition. According to that year's annual report of the Visitors of the Ashmolean, this contained:
the whole of the drawings by himself that he presented to the drawing school which he founded in the University. These have never been shown together before. The exhibition,