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John Ruskin

4 of 80 portraits of John Ruskin

John Ruskin, by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1879 - NPG 1336 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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John Ruskin

by Sir Hubert von Herkomer
watercolour, 1879
29 3/4 in. x 19 3/4 in. (755 mm x 503 mm)
Given by Sir Hubert von Herkomer, 1903
Primary Collection
NPG 1336

Sitterback to top

  • John Ruskin (1819-1900), Writer, artist and social reformer. Sitter associated with 80 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914), Painter and illustrator. Artist associated with 49 portraits, Sitter in 11 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Hubert Herkomer (the von was added later) was a self-taught artist and son of a woodcarver. in 1879 he undertook this watercolour portrait of John Ruskin, the great writer on art, as one of a group of studies of famous men that he intended to bequeath to his children. He described the circumstances in which it was painted in a later newspaper article: 'I painted John Ruskin in 1879. It was a watercolour, a drawing of head and shoulders, life-size, painted at Denmark Hill, in the little garret bedroom which had formerly been his nursery. He seemed most anxious not to look at the painting until I had quite finished it; whilst sitting he was theorising about the methods of painting. I used in those days to paint abnormally large watercolours and always covered the paper first with a wash of some ochre or grey, then sketched the subject with charcoal. I would then commence with a hog-hair brush, working up the ground colour with some fresh tones and out of a kind of chaos produce a head.' Ruskin liked the result, describing it as 'the first that has ever given what good can be gleaned out of the clods of my face'.

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Events of 1879back to top

Current affairs

Women's education continues to grow, with the founding of women's colleges in Oxford. Somerville College took its name from the late Scottish scientific writer Mary Somerville. Lady Margaret Hall was founded by Elizabeth Wordsworth, great niece of the poet, and named after Margaret Beaufort, a medieval noblewoman and mother of Henry VII.

Art and science

Edison invents the first practical electric light bulb.
The first prehistoric paintings, dating back 14,000 years, are discovered in the Altamira caves in Northern Spain when a young girl notices paintings of bison on the ceilings.
The French actress Sarah Bernhardt, already acclaimed for roles in plays such as Racine's Phèdre and Victor Hugo's Hernani, celebrates a successful season at London's Gaiety Theatre.


Anglo-Zulu war fought between British forces and the Zulus, after disputes between the Boers and Zulu leader Cetshywayo over the Utrecht border attracted British intervention. The British victory marked the end of the independent Zulu nation, although the Zulu's initial victory at Isandhlwana was a major surprise. The Battle of Rorke's Drift was dramatised in the film Zulu, starring Michael Caine, in 1964.

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