Biography of John Ruskin

Photo of John Ruskin

John Ruskin was an influential nineteenth century art critic.

When and Where was he born?

8th February 1819, London, England.

Family Background:

John Ruskin was the son of John James Ruskin, a successful wine merchant (colleague of Domecq) and avid art lover and Margaret (nee Cox)


Kings College, London. Christ Church College, Oxford where he became friends with Lewis Carroll

Timeline of John Ruskin:

1836: Ruskin lives in Oxford with his mother.

1837: He publishes articles in Loudon’s Architectural magazine called “The Poetry of Architecture”.

1839: He meets William Wordsworth for the first time. Wins the Newdigate Prize for poetry with the poem “Salsette and Elephanta”. He published his “Remarks on the present state of meteorological science” in the Transactions of the Meteorological Society.

1840: Ruskin meets Joseph Turner the painter. Becomes very ill with what is thought to be consumption. Goes on a foreign tour with his parents in the Autumn.

1841: Ruskin writes “The King of the Golden River” for Euphemia Chalmers Gray whom, he is later to marry. Anonymously publishes the first volume of “Modern Painters” under the pen name of a “An Oxford Graduate”.

1844: He thoroughly revises “Modern Painters”. Studies botany and geology as well as painting. Buys “the Slave Ship ” by Turner.

1847: Ruskin publishes volume two of “Modern Painters” which inspires William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti to change their style.

1848: On 10th April Ruskin marries Euphemia (known as Effie) Chalmers Gray, although there is debate about whether the marriage was ever consumated. He tours Normandy on his honeymoon. Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti formed the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

1849: Studies architecture in Venice until 1850.

1850: Ruskin publishes “Collected Poems”.

1851: He publishes the first volume of “The Stones of Venice”. Begins to defend Hunt and Millais in letters to “The Times” newspaper. Meets the pre-raphaelite brotherhood for the first time a while later.

1852: Turner dies naming Ruskin as a Trustee of his will. He works in Venice once more.

1853: Ruskin travels in the Scottish Highlands with his wife, Millais and his brother. Extols the virtue of Gothic Architecture.

1854: His marriage to Effie is annulled on the Grounds of non-consumation. Starts to lecture on art at the newly founded Working Men’s College. Increases his friendship with Rossetti and particularly Elizabeth Siddall.

1855: Effie marries Millais. Ruskin writes to “The Times” in defence of Pre-Raphaelite painting. Starts his series of Academy notes which review the annual Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts. Meets Alfred Tennyson.

1856: He meets Charles Eliot Norton who is to popularise his work in America.

1858: Ruskin falls in love with the young Rose La Touche. Renounces his protestant faith. Founds the Ruskin School of Art in Cambridge. (Now Anglia Ruskin University).

1859: Ruskin begins to turn away from art criticism towards social criticism and develops a political theory which will influence Christian Socialism and the founders of the British Labour Party.

1860: Finally completes his series “Modern Painters” and publishes more social criticism in the Cornhill Magazine which is edited by Thackeray. Thackeray has to limit the number of his articles, however, after complaints.

1864: Death of Ruskin’s father and the inheritance of his fortune.

1866: Proposes marriage to Rose La Touche who is now of adult age but is rejected.

1867: Ruskin’s work “Time and Tide” which consists of letters to a British Labourer on social issues is published. Meets Octavia Hill the famous social worker.

1869: Ruskin is appointed the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at Oxford University.

1871: Purchases Brantwood, near Coniston in the Lake District using money from his art collection and his father’s wealth. Works as a street cleaner in London and a road mender in Oxford to try and understand the working man. Becomes seriously mentally and physically ill when visiting Matlock in Derbyshire. Founds an Art School in Oxford, the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art which was originally part of the Ashmoleum Museum. Founds the Guild of St George, a Utopian society where “Companions” give one tenth of their earnings to develop a community living scheme. Death of his mother in December.

1872: Rose la Touche rejects him totally.

1875: Rose dies insane aged twenty seven.

1878: Sets up the charity the Guild of St George. James McNeill Whistler files a libel suit against Ruskin after he publishes a review of his work “Nocturne in Black and Gold” which says that Whistler was asking “two hundred guineas for throwing a pot of paint in the public’s face”. Ruskin was too ill to attend the court and Whistler wins the case but is only awarded one farthing in damages. Nevertheless Ruskin’s reputation is damaged and it doesn’t help his mental decline.

1879: Ruskin resigns from his post of Slade Professor of Fine Art.

1880: He continues writing between bouts of madness.

1883: Goes back to his post as Slade Professor of Fine Art in Oxford and gives a series of lectures on the “Art of England”.

1884: Ruskin lectures at the Royal Institution in London.

1885: Publishes “Praeterita” his autobiography. Continues to suffer from bouts of mental illness.

1886: Ruskin becomes increasingly mentally unstable.

When and Where did he Die?

20th January 1900, Coniston, Cumbria, England of influenza.

Age at Death:


Ruskin Memorial
Memorial to Ruskin on the 
banks of Derwentwater 
(copyright  Anthony Blagg)

Written Works:

1837: “The Poetry of Architecture.”
1841: “The King of the Golden River”
1843: “Modern Painters.”
1846: “Modern Painters” (Part 2).
1849: “The Seven Lamps of Architecture.”
1851: “Examples of the Architecture of Venice”. Pre-Raphaelitism. The Stones of Venice, Part 1.
1853: “The Stones of Venice” Part 2-3.
1854: “Lectures on Architecture and Painting.”
1856: “Modern Painters”, Parts 3-4
1857: “The Political Economy of Art”.
1859: “The Two Paths.”
1860:  “Modern Painters” Part 5.
1862: “Unto the Last.”.
1865: “Sesame and Lilies”.
1866: “The Crown of the Wild Olive”. “Ethics of the Dust.”
1867: “Time and Tide”.
1869: “The Queen of the Air”.
1870: “Lectures on Art”.
1871: “Fors Clavigera”.”Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain”.
1872: “The Eagle’s Nest.”. “Munera Pulveris”.
1874: “Val d’Arno”.
1875: “Deucalion”. “Mornings in Florence”.
1880: “Arrows of the Chace”. “Elements of English Prosody”.
1881: “A Joy Forever”
1884: “The Art of England”.
1885: “On the Old Road”. “Praeterita”. (his autobiography)


10th April 1848 to Euphemia (known as Effie) Chalmers Gray.

Site of Grave:

St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Coniston, Cumbria, England. (Donald Campbell is now buried in Coniston Cemetery one road away).

Ruskin's Grave
Ruskin’s Grave (with detail in next picture). 
The Swastika in Ruskin’s time was seen as an elitist symbol especially by Ruskin followers such as Cecil Rhodes and Rudyard Kipling (copyright  Anthony Blagg)
Ruskin Grave detail
Detail of Ruskin gravestone (copyright Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:


Brantwood. The house he lived his later years and died in. Edge of Lake Coniston.
The Ruskin Museum, Coniston.
The Armitt Museum, Ambleside.


Painted a frieze at Wallington, the house of his friend Pauline Trevelyan. This is now a National Trust property near Cambo.


The Ruskin Galleries, Bembridge School.


Ruskin Gallery, 101 Norfolk Street, Sheffield.

Further Information:

Ruskin Society of London, C/O D Forbes, 351 Woodstock Road, Oxford, OX2 7NX.