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John Ruskin

5 of 82 portraits of John Ruskin

John Ruskin, by T.A. & J. Green, 1880s - NPG P327 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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John Ruskin

by T.A. & J. Green
platinum print, 1880s
7 3/4 in. x 10 1/4 in. (197 mm x 260 mm)
Purchased, 1987
Primary Collection
NPG P327

Sitterback to top

  • John Ruskin (1819-1900), Writer, artist and social reformer. Sitter associated with 82 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

Ruskin was the most influential art critic of the nineteenth century. He first made his name with Modern Painters, the first volume of which was published in 1843. In 1871, following the death of his mother, Ruskin bought the small estate of Brantwood on Lake Coniston in the Lake District. He was to remain there for the rest of his life. This fine photograph was taken during one of his daily walks by the local photographers Thomas Andrew and James Green, from Saint Bees, near Whitehaven in Cumbria.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Rogers, Malcolm, Camera Portraits, 1989 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 1989 - 21 January 1990), p. 111 Read entry

    Ruskin - 'the Professor', as he was habitually called - was the first great English art critic and a talented artist, whose voluminous writings greatly influenced contemporary attitudes to art and architecture. Although he once burned a set of Goya's Caprichos which he considered hideous, he recognized the genius of Turner and was an early champion of the Pre-Raphaelites, even after his friend Millais had stolen his wife Effie. In 1877 he was involved in a celebrated libel suit with Whistler, in which the painter was awarded one farthing damages. In later life he turned to social and political problems, and was a passionate advocate of social reforms, which alienated many of his earlier admirers.

    In 1871, following the death of his mother, Ruskin bought the small estate of Brantwood on Coniston Water in the Lake District, and there he spent his declining years. This photograph was 'taken during one of his daily walks' by a firm of photographers from Grasmere, about 1885, at the time that Ruskin was working on his autobiography Praeterita, when he was suffering from increasing mental instability, the 'monsoons and cyclones of my poor old plagued brains'.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 538

Placesback to top

Events of 1880back to top

Current affairs

The Liberals defeat the Conservatives, and Gladstone becomes Prime Minister for the second time, taking over from Disraeli, who retires from politics.
The MP for Northampton and atheist Charles Bradlaugh, refuses to swear on the Bible and so forfeits his right to take his seat. Despite having the support of Gladstone and J.S Mill, it takes six years before he can take his seat, after which he pushes through a new Oaths Act (1888).

Art and science

Thomas Huxley delivers his address 'Science and Culture' at the opening of Josiah Mason's science college in Birmingham (published the following year). Huxley argues that the study of modern literature, combined with knowledge of science, should be promoted in education above classical literature, echoing the claim made by the poet and critic Matthew Arnold. Huxley, an early advocate of 'Darwinism', did much to popularise evolutionary theory.


Buenos Aires finally becomes the permanent capital of Argentina, following sixty years of political debates around the issue. The city was federalised, politically separated from the Buenos Aires Province, and placed under direct control of the national government.
Despite allegations of vote buying, Cecil Rhodes is elected member of parliament for Barkly West in the Cape Colony, marking the start of his political career in South Africa.

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