John Ruskin (1819-1900) was an English art critic, writer, and social thinker who had a significant impact on the development of art criticism and aesthetics in the 19th century and who championed Turner when he was unknown to the world. John Ruskin is considered one of the most influential figures in Victorian culture, and his ideas on art, nature, and social justice continue to be studied and debated today.
John Ruskin saw J.M.W. Turner's genius from very early on. Believing that art should be a reflection of nature, revealing a moral truth about the world, he believed Turner completely fulfilled that aim. Whilst others were baffled by Turner's paintings, he wrote that they "move and mingle among the pale stars, and rise up into the brightness of the illimitable heaven, whose soft, and blue eye gazes down into the deep waters of the sea for ever”. He supported Turner and between himself and his father had collected more than 30 of Turner's watercolours and two of his important oil paintings.
Ruskin was born in London and grew up in a wealthy family. He studied at Oxford University, where he developed an interest in art and architecture, which he would later pursue in his career. Ruskin's early writings focused on the aesthetic and moral value of art, arguing that beauty was an essential part of human life and that the study of art could enrich one's moral character.
In the 1850s, Ruskin became known as a leading art critic, publishing a series of influential works such as "Modern Painters" and "The Stones of Venice." In these works, Ruskin praised the pre-Raphaelite artists for their attention to detail and criticized the academic art of his time for its lack of moral and emotional depth.
Ruskin's ideas about art were closely tied to his beliefs about nature and society. He believed that the natural world was an expression of God's beauty and that human beings had a responsibility to preserve and appreciate it. He also argued that the industrialization and urbanization of Victorian society had led to a loss of moral values and a decline in the quality of life for the working classes.
John Ruskin watercolour painting, The Garden of San Miniato near Florence, 1845
Today, Ruskin's legacy lives on through his influential writings, which continue to inspire debates on the role of art in society, the relationship between humans and nature, and the pursuit of social justice. Ruskin's emphasis on the moral and spiritual value of art and his concern for the well-being of society continue to resonate with contemporary audiences and make him a significant figure in the history of art and culture.
John Ruskin and J.M.W. Turner had a close and complex relationship that influenced both of their artistic careers. Ruskin was a great admirer of Turner's work, and his writing on Turner's art helped to establish Turner's reputation as one of the greatest artists of his time.
Ruskin first encountered Turner's work when he was a student at Oxford University, and he was immediately struck by its emotional power and expressive qualities. In 1843, Ruskin published the first volume of his book "Modern Painters," which included a long and passionate defence of Turner's work against his contemporary critics. Ruskin praised Turner's use of colour and light, his ability to capture the essence of nature, and his deep emotional connection to his subject matter.
Ruskin's writings on Turner were instrumental in shaping public perception of Turner's art and helped to establish him as a leading figure in the Romantic movement. Turner was also influenced by Ruskin's writing and the two men developed a close friendship over the years. Turner even invited Ruskin to visit him in his studio, where he shared his artistic techniques and ideas with him.