John Ruskin knew everything from economic theory to classical myth

COURTESY PHOTO
These are the 23 volumes of “The Collected Works of John Ruskin” (NY: Frank F. Lovell & Co., 1920). They contained Ruskin’s thoughts on everything from art to artists, geology, birdlife, literature, architecture, working man, economic theory, botany, fairy tales and classical myth.

GH has a collection of 23 volumes of “The Collected Works of John Ruskin”, NY: Frank F. Lovell & Co., 1920, bound in tan calfskin with decorated gilt spines.

GH wonders how an author can be so prolific.

John Ruskin (1819-1900) was a polymath, a fancy term for someone who acquired extensive knowledge to solve problems in unique ways.

These 23 volumes contain Ruskin’s reflections on art and artists, geology, birdlife, literature, architecture, working man, economic theory, botany, fairy tales and myth. classic. He was a firm believer in nature, art, morality and craftsmanship. His writings fell out of favor after the 1930s, but because of his stance on sustainability, his works are appreciated today, as a highly influential late Victorian.

The most valuable volume in this set is the 1843 book “Modern Painters”, in which he defended the maligned JMW Turner, then called a hack, now considered one of Britain’s finest watercolourists, for what Ruskin perceived as Turner’s “truth to nature”. ”

The book was controversial and was first published anonymously, but Ruskin uniquely combined aesthetics with high moral ethics.

Ruskin found truth in the picture of nature painted by Turner, and because Turner painted what he saw, Ruskin found his work to be truthful, honest, and therefore moral.

In 1843 his defense of Turner was controversial because Turner did not paint in the accepted style of the Old Masters, post-Renaissance artists who composed in an academic studio style. Ruskin criticized the old masters, writing that they did not observe nature.

Turner, now considered one of the first abstract painters, “captured” the atmosphere of nature in forms of shadow and light, such as steam, clouds, and water. The formlessness was as intriguing to Turner as the detailed structure was to the Old Masters. Ruskin found truth in Turner’s spontaneity and personal vision.

Ruskin championed the contemporary style outraged by his time, influencing the Pre-Raphaelites, so named because they strove to paint in a style practiced before the Old Masters.

Ruskin became an art teacher at Oxford and formed ‘The Ruskin School’ of drawing; immediate, informal, unstylized, with an emphasis on truth about nature, for only direct observation was right and moral. He also taught drawing at the Working Man’s School in London and was an admirer of young female artists, teaching in girls’ schools.

You might say, “Here’s a scholar who thought all people were equal,” but no, that wasn’t the case.

He believed that equality in society is not possible and believed that some men were naturally superior; however, he viewed the competition as destructive. He yearned to return to medieval times, when rank and status were observed, and obedience to the established order and to God was life itself.

Another notable volume in the set of G, H. is “The Seven Lamps of Architecture” (1849).

Ruskin writes that the truth in architecture is found in style before the Renaissance, before classical architecture was rediscovered. Ruskin advocated a return to the medieval Gothic style and he himself illustrated this example book.

Ruskin proposed that the medieval artisans’ guild system be reinstated, as an alternative to the factory workers of industrial capitalism.

In “The Seven Lamps” he stated the guiding principles of architecture as sacrifice, truth, power, beauty, life, memory and obedience.

If GH has time to read 23 volumes, he will discover a high moral tone, although Ruskin’s personal life was fraught with scandals.

You might be wondering why Ruskin matters to a Californian who lives in a bungalow with Californian plein air paintings on the walls.

Ruskin’s philosophy was adopted by William Morris, the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement in England, who founded a craft center devoted to the following principles: 1. no division of labor, 2. adoption of the guild system medieval, 3. hand – craft materials (anti-machine) and 4. anti-capitalist cooperation.

The craft architecture had to be adapted to the terrain and built by hand, and the best style for the houses was the bungalow style. From England, at the end of the 19th century, this style came to California. Santa Barbara is a notable example of the influence of arts and crafts.

Ruskin’s admiration for J.M.W. Turner extended beyond the artist’s death, as Turner had named Ruskin his executor; 20,000 works on paper by Turner were bequeathed to the British National Gallery.

Ruskin cataloged and organized all of these works, and hand-built the Turner Gallery, exposing the Nation to Turner’s exquisite work.

The value of the 23 volumes is slightly diminished because GH is missing one of the original 24 volumes. The value of the collection is $1,000.

Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Monday in the News-Press.

Written after his father was diagnosed with COVID-19, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that culminate in personal triumphs over current constraints. It is available from Chaucer in Santa Barbara.

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