In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section John Ruskin

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British and Irish Literature John Ruskin
Stephen Wildman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0156


In an era of great prose writers—although he did win the Newdigate Prize for Poetry at Oxford—John Ruskin (b. 1819–d. 1900) rises above his peers as a true polymath. Widely known as “the author of Modern Painters” by the time he was thirty, he would become a recognized authority not only on painting and architecture, following publication of The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1851–1853) but also on literature, history, and theology, all treated at length over the five volumes of Modern Painters (1843–1860). The pamphlets Pre-Raphaelitism (1851) and Academy Notes (1855–1859) placed him at the forefront of public controversy over modern art. Unto this Last, first published as essays in the Cornhill Magazine (1860) and then as a book (1862), was a bombshell explosion of laissez-faire capitalism, controversial and hugely influential for a generation before Marx’s writings were translated into English. From 1870, as the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford, he lectured and wrote on an ever-increasing range of subjects, mostly on art but also encompassing botany (Proserpina), geology (Deucalion), and ornithology (Love’s Meinie). In Fors Clavigera, ninety-six self-proclaimed “Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain” issued between 1871 and 1884, he created an entirely new form of publication, prefiguring the age of the Internet, and in Praeterita (left unfinished in 1889), he wrote one of the most intriguing of autobiographies. A friend of, or correspondent with, eminent figures such as Carlyle, Browning, Rossetti, and Gladstone, at the time of his death in January 1900, he was the most widely read author of the age, and one of its greatest celebrities, even though he had been in retreat from public life for over a decade. Despite his reputation suffering some decline in a general reaction against Victorian sages in the early 20th century, interest revived after the war. Since the late 1960s, there has been hardly a book or art exhibition on a 19th-century subject in which Ruskin has not featured prominently. His writings have been translated into many languages, and there is a Ruskin Library in both England (Lancaster University) and Japan (Tokyo). Equally recognized as one of the finest prose writers in the English language and as a cultural commentator and social critic, Ruskin has proved capable of constant reinterpretation, most recently being lauded as a pioneer in matters of ecology and environmental concern.


These provide access to the three major Ruskin collections in the United Kingdom—The Elements of Drawing from the Ashmolean in Oxford, Museums Sheffield: The Ruskin Collection from the Guild of St George museum collection in Sheffield, and the Ruskin Library and Research Centre at Lancaster University.

  • The Elements of Drawing.

    From the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford, a digitized catalogue of Ruskin’s teaching collection, comprising images and catalogues, including his notes and instructions.

  • Museums Sheffield: The Ruskin Collection.

    Digitized catalogue of the Guild of St George collection (drawings, prints, photographs).

  • Ruskin Library and Research Centre.

    The largest single collection of books, manuscripts, drawings, and photographs relating to Ruskin and his circle. It includes a catalogue of the Whitehouse Collection; two digitization projects, Modern Painters I: Electronic Edition and Ruskin’s Venetian Notebooks 1849–50; and The Works of John Ruskin (Library Edition).

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