John Ruskin (Critical Lives)
Ballantyne examines a crucial aspect of Ruskin’s thinking: the notion that art and architecture have moral value. Telling the story of Ruskin’s childhood and enduring devotion to his parents—who fostered his career as a writer on art and architecture—he explores the circumstances that led to Ruskin’s greatest works, such as Modern Painters, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, The Stones of Venice, and Unto This Last. He follows Ruskin through his altruistic ventures with the urban poor, to whom he taught drawing, motivated by a profound conviction that art held the key to living a worthwhile life. Ultimately, Ballantyne weaves Ruskin’s story into a larger one about Victorian society, a time when the first great industrial cities took shape and when art could finally reach beyond the wealthy elite and touch the lives of everyday people.
rejected. On 10 October, on his return journey south, he wrote to Efﬁe’s mother from Berwick, imploring her to send him a message that would reach him at Leeds, reassuring him that he was a little missed at Bowerswell – by the mother at least.34 Not one but two letters reached him at Leeds, and they were not from Mrs Gray, but from Efﬁe. They have been lost, as has John’s reply, but they indicated a change of heart, prompting him to renew his proposal by letter, and this time it was accepted.35
ﬁlm. There was a silent ﬁlm, The Love of John Ruskin (1912), and the most recent is Effie Gray (2014). The story continues to fascinate, even now that the general public has little idea of who Ruskin was and what he stood for. Maybe his most enduring legacy will be in acting as a warning to over-protective parents. One would like to think that what would matter more would be the perspectives opened up in his writings, and the ways they have informed how we can see the world through artworks,
is worth noticing that Ruskin did not think that commissioning him was out of the question.6 Rather than behaving like a wronged husband, he was perhaps relieved that Millais had taken Efﬁe off his hands. Millais, however, would have been hearing Efﬁe’s version of events and of Ruskin’s character, and he accepted no further commissions from Ruskin after the portrait. He and Rossetti came and visited Oxford, but did not get drawn into the museum project. Rosetti did some work on the Oxford Union –
naturalistic rendering. The theme of death and eternal life would have been an issue at home with his ageing parents, but the opposition between worldly wisdom and Christian principle that is introduced here is important. In the prayers that England dictates to her children, says Ruskin, ‘she tells them to ﬁght against the world, the ﬂesh, and the devil’. But ‘What is the world which they are to “ﬁght with”, and how does it differ from the world they are to “get on in”?’18 This question lies at
his genius, but which left him unprepared for social life and ordinary happiness. In most ways, of course, it suited his development extremely well, and he became one of the most eminent writers of his age, but he was not at his ease in company making pleasant conversation, nor was he quite comfortable when he was alone and lacked the guidance to make up his own mind. These were not complaints that he made in print during his parents’ lifetime. In their company he was complete and at home with