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John Ruskin

2 of 76 portraits of John Ruskin

John Ruskin, by George Richmond, circa 1857 -NPG 1058 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

John Ruskin

by George Richmond
Black and white chalk on thin grey paper, circa 1857
16 3/4 in. x 14 in. (425 mm x 356 mm)
NPG 1058


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This portraitback to top

This portrait is a study for a now-destroyed chalk or pastel drawing.

The sitter first met George Richmond in Rome in 1840, and the two became good friends. After first dining with the Ruskins, Richmond told his wife that John ‘is a most pleasing man and of considerable power as a poet – with a good notion of art … I have promised to pay them a visit for two or three days to paint their son in the summer if all is well.’ [1] In 1843, Richmond produced a full-length portrait (see ‘All known portraits, By other artists’) and in 1857 Ruskin’s father John James commissioned a head-and-shoulders drawing. Seven sittings took place in February–March 1857, Ruskin snr paid Richmond £42 plus a case of wine, and the work was exhibited at the Royal Academy (737). According to Ruskin snr, ‘It is what Richmond says a portrait should be: The Truth Lovingly Told.’ [2] It portrayed the sitter’s right hand touching his cheek. According to Marion Henry Spielmann, Richmond the draughtsman ‘preferred to show us the gentleness, thoughtfulness and brilliance of the friend, rather than the vigour, the combativeness and the earnestness of the crusader’. [3]

Two studies for the commissioned portrait were made, [4] together with the present, slighter work, which displays the sensitive handling Richmond brought to his chalk portraits of young men in this period. As such, it perhaps make Ruskin look rather younger than his 38 years. The head is lightly and economically drawn, with the main definition on the eyes, especially their pupils. White is used as widely spaced hatching on the forehead, with some strokes in the hair and cheeks and a stripe down the nose.

In June 1857, a stipple engraving by Francis Holl of the exhibited portrait was issued; see NPG D33440. [5]

The present work remained with Richmond until his death, when it was purchased from his executors for £3.5.0, together with fourteen drawings of other eminent Victorians. [6] An area of discoloured paper indicates its original mounting; outside this browned area, to the lower left, is a very faint bald head with a round face. The portrait was glazed and given a water-gilded ‘Richmond-style’ frame by F. Draper in August–September 1896.

See also Cook & Wedderburn 1903–12, vol.36, no.14; and Dearden 1999, no.44.

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Letter from G. Richmond to his wife, Dec. 1840; quoted Dearden 1999, p.29.
2) Letter from J.J. Ruskin to J. Ruskin, 5 June 1858; quoted Dearden 1999, p.49. The work (repr. Spielmann 1900a, p.79), is assumed to have been destroyed by fire in 1941.
3) Spielmann 1900a, p.170.
4) Dearden 1999, nos 41 and 42.
5) Other prints are BM, London (ref. O’Donoghue 1908–22, vol.3, p.626, no.8); and MEPL, London, 10020251.
6) See correspondence between F.W. Farrer and Lionel Cust, concluding with note dated 16 Aug. 1896, NPG RP 1058.

Physical descriptionback to top

Head only, to front.

Provenanceback to top

George Richmond; his executors, from whom purchased 1896.

Exhibitionsback to top

Ruskin Centenary Exhibition, Coniston, 1919 (103).

Ruskin and the English Watercolour, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 1989 (1).

Reproductionsback to top

Cook & Wedderburn 1903–12, vol.36, pl.C.

Bookman, February 1919, p.157.

Whitehouse 1938, frontispiece.

John Ruskin, Arts Council travelling exh. cat., 1954, front cover (not exh.)

Dearden 1961, p.173.

Ruskin 1989, monochrome frontispiece.

Dearden 1999, pl.11.

View all known portraits for John Ruskin