The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

John Ruskin

1 portrait

© National Portrait Gallery, London

  • Buy a print
  • Use this image
  • ShareShare this

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 82 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Hubert von Herkomer (1849-1914), Painter and illustrator. Artist associated with 50 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'.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Marsh, Jan, Character Sketches: The Pre-Raphaelites, 1998
  • Marsh, Jan, The Pre-Raphaelite Circle, 2013, p. 62 Read entry

    Slight in stature and fair in complexion, as a boy Ruskin was bitten on the cheek by a dog, which left a lifelong scar.

  • Marsh, Jan, Insights: The Pre-Raphaelite Circle, 2005, p. 60
  • Parris, Matthew, Heroes and Villains: Scarfe at the National Portrait Gallery, 2003 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 30 September 2003 to 4 April 2004), p. 115
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 131
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 144
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 144 Read entry

    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 theorizing 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 may be gleaned out of the clods of my face'.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 538
  • Various, William Morris: Words & Wisdom, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 16 October 2014 - 11 January 2015)

Placesback to top

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.

International

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.

Tell us more back to top

Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, information that is missing (a sitter’s life dates, occupation or family relationships, or a date of portrait for example) or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have information to share please complete the form below.

If you require information from us, please use our Archive enquiry service. You can buy a print of most illustrated portraits. Select the portrait of interest to you, then look out for a Buy a Print button. Prices start at £6 for unframed prints, £25 for framed prints. If you wish to license this image, please use our Rights and Images service.

Please note that we cannot provide valuations.

We digitise over 8,000 portraits a year and we cannot guarantee being able to digitise images that are not already scheduled.

What can you tell us?close

There are occasions when we are unsure of the identity of a sitter or artist, their life dates, occupation or have not recorded their family relationships. Sometimes we have not recorded the date of a portrait. Do you have specialist knowledge or a particular interest about any aspect of the portrait or sitter or artist that you can share with us? We would welcome any information that adds to and enhances our information and understanding about a particular portrait, sitter or artist.

Citationclose

How do you know this? Please could you let us know your source of information.

* Permission to publish (Privacy information)
Privacy Informationclose

The National Portrait Gallery will NOT use your information to contact you or store for any other purpose than to investigate or display your contribution. By ticking permission to publish you are indicating your agreement for your contribution to be shown on this collection item page. Please note your email address will not be displayed on the page nor will it be used for any marketing material or promotion of any kind.

Please ensure your comments are relevant and appropriate. Your contributions must be polite and with no intention of causing trouble. All contributions are moderated.

Your Emailclose

Contributions are moderated. We'll need your email address so that we can follow up on the information provided and contact you to let you know when your contribution has been published.