Authors: John Ruskin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

English critic and essayist

February 8, 1819

London, England

January 20, 1900

Coniston, Lancashire, England


John Ruskin acted in several capacities as a man of letters, writing as an aesthetician, an art historian, a poet, a writer of a fairy tale, and as the author of works on reform and economics. Born in London in 1819, he was the only child of parents who lavished upon him a great deal of wealth and affection. In addition to study at King’s College, in London, and at Christ Church College, Oxford, he traveled extensively through Europe. As early as 1837 to 1838 he wrote a series of articles on “The Poetry of Architecture” for London’s Architectural Magazine. A defense of Joseph Turner’s painting led him to write the voluminous Modern Painters, which appeared volume by volume from 1843 to 1860. The work became a treatise on art in general, a defense of contemporary painting, and a formulation of the five categories Ruskin believed conveyed by art: power, imitation, truth, beauty, and relation.

John Ruskin

(Library of Congress)

In 1848 Ruskin married Euphemia Chalmers ("Effie") Gray, then nineteen years old, for whom he had written his novel-fairy tale, The King of the Golden River, in 1841 (it was not published until 1851). The marriage was unsuccessful and was annulled in 1854. Gray married John Millais, the artist, the following year.

Millais and other Pre-Raphaelite artists were friends of Ruskin, who supported their movement, especially in The Stones of Venice. This book, published between 1851 and 1853, along with The Seven Lamps of Architecture, extolled the virtues of Gothic architecture. In these works, his regard for the dignity of the artisans led to his concern with the problems of Victorian society.

After 1857 Ruskin became interested in social reform, his most famous work in this vein being Unto This Last. As a reformer Ruskin also helped found the Working Men’s College in London in 1854, and he gave lessons in drawing and lectured to groups at that institution. During the 1860’s Ruskin wrote much and lectured, despite increasing mental illness. One important book of this period was Sesame and Lilies, a collection of essays on aesthetic topics addressed primarily to young people. From 1870 to 1890 he wrote several works—including Fors Clavigera, a group of letters to English workers, and Praeterita, his unfinished autobiography—and traveled. Because of increasingly severe attacks of mental illness, the last decade of Ruskin’s life has been described as a living death. He died at Coniston, England, on January 20, 1900.

Author Works Nonfiction: Modern Painters, 1843-1860 The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849 Notes on the Construction of Sheepfolds, 1851 Pre-Raphaelitism, 1851 The Stones of Venice, 1851-1853 Lectures on Architecture and Painting, 1854 The Harbours of England, 1856 The Elements of Drawing, 1857 Unto This Last, 1860 Sesame and Lilies, 1865 The Ethics of the Dust, 1866 The Crown of Wild Olives, 1866 The Queen of the Air, 1869 Lectures on Art, 1870 Fors Clavigera, 1871-1884 Munera Pulveris, 1872 Aratra Pentelici, 1872 The Eagle’s Nest, 1872 Love's Meinie, 1873–1881 Val d’Arno, 1874 Mornings in Florence, 1875–77 Deucalion, 1875-1883 Proserpina: Studies of Wayside Flowers, 1875–86 Ariadne Florentina, 1876 Laws of Fésole, 1877–78 The Bible of Amiens, 1880–85 St Mark's Rest, 1884 The Art of England, 1884 The Pleasures of England, 1884–85 The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century, 1884 On the Old Road, 1885 Praeterita, 1885-1889 The Poetry of Architecture, 1893 Letters to a College Friend, 1894 The Aesthetic and Mathematic School of Art in Florence, 1906 The Diaries of John Ruskin, 1956-1959 (3 volumes; Joan Evans and John Howard Whitehouse, editors) The Brantwood Diary of John Ruskin, 1971 (Helen Viljoen, editor) The Ruskin Family Letters: The Correspondence of John James Ruskin, His Wife, and Their Son, 1801-1843, 1973 (2 volumes; Van Akin Burd, editor) Children’s/Young Adult Literature: The King of the Golden River: Or, The Black Brothers, a Legend of Stiria, 1851 Poetry: Poems, 1850 Edited Texts: Bibliotheca Pastorum, 1876–88 Miscellaneous: The Works of John Ruskin, 1902-1912 (39 volumes; E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn, editors) Bibliography Batchelor, John. John Ruskin: A Life. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000. This biography explores the studies of the eminently Victorian Ruskin, which ranged from botany and geology to art criticism and social theory, and the anguish of his private life. Birch, Dinah, and Francis O’Gorman. Ruskin and Gender. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Contains essays challenging assumptions of Ruskin’s conservatism when it comes to gender roles. Cianci, Giovanni, and Peter Nicholls, eds. Ruskin and Modernism. New York: Palgrave, 2001. Study on the relationship between Ruskin’s influence and Anglo-American modernism. Examines Ruskin’s connection to pre-modernist writers and the importance of Ruskin’s thought to modernists such as Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and C. S. Lewis and to intellectual history and architectural theory. Emerson, Sheila. Ruskin, the Genesis of Invention. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. On Ruskin’s aesthetics and art criticism. Hilton, Timothy. John Ruskin: The Early Years. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. Draws from Ruskin’s diaries and many unpublished letters as well as the subject’s published works. Covers Ruskin’s life from 1819 to 1859. Hilton, Timothy. John Ruskin: The Later Years. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000. Begins in 1859, when Ruskin is already famous. Describes his obsession with ten-year-old Rose La Touche as well as his mental illness in his later years. Hunt, John Dixon. The Wider Sea: A Life of John Ruskin. New York: Viking, 1982. Wheeler, Michael. Ruskin’s God. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. First full-length study of the impact that Ruskin’s religion had upon his varied writings.

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