John Ruskin - Art, Society and Ideology

Who was Ruskin?

John Ruskin was born in London in 1819. His father collected art and encouraged his son's literary activities, while his mother, a devout Christian, wished him to become a bishop. He published his first poem at the age of eleven, inspired by the beauty of the natural world.

He was educated at home and later at Christ Church, Oxford. At college Ruskin started to write about art and architecture, including expressing his support for Turner, whose work was being criticised by the Art establishment. As a result, he became an inspiration to a generation of younger artists, notably the Pre-Raphaelites, who were also being criticised at this time. Ruskin favoured the non-exaggerated art like medievalist art and the natural work of J M W Turner, disliking the 'so called' Renaissance masters like Michelangelo and Raphael.

Ruskin became an increasingly radical voice in Victorian society, promoting social reforms such as education for all, old-age pensions and better housing. To Ruskin the relationship between art, morality and social justice was of the utmost importance.

Ruskin did not marry after his disastrous relationship earlier in life, but in his forties fell deeply in love with a young girl Rose la Touche. His love for her lasted many years, despite her parents refusing to allow marriage, and Rose rejecting Ruskin due to religious differences. Her rejection contributed to Ruskinís mental health problems, and he spent his last years in seclusion at Brantwood, his home on Lake Coniston.

Ruskin died in 1900 at the age of 81, leaving behind him collected writings that stretch to 39 volumes, thousands of drawings and watercolours, and a legacy of influence that is felt to this day. Much of his wealth he devoted to schemes of social welfare, such as the Guild of St. George, which he founded.

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Google map: see where John Ruskin had his final home, at Brantwood, Lake Coniston»

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