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JOHN RISKIN AS A YOUNG MAN
(From a pencil drawing on gray paper with high lights in white crayon,
collection of Mr. K. Kojima.)
PERHAM W. NAHL
If a sepia drawing marked “Margate” had not been found during the cataloging of the Armes Collection, the University Chronicle would not have occasion to publish the accompanying illustrations.
The R in the lower right-hand corner of the Margate picture was the only mark by which to identify a work that in itself showed characteristics of a trained hand rapidly expressing a broad theme. The sketch might have been by Claude de Lorraine or Turner, but the R at once suggested Ruskin. Verification by comparison with other work by Ruskin established the authenticity of the drawing which, with the examples from the Kojima collection, also reproduced with this article, has been hitherto unpublished.
Ruskin's sketches are often made on transparent paper with pen and ink. The free handling suggests etching to a marked degree. With a few deft strokes he represents landscape, figures, clouds, or rocks with equal facility, and seemingly without difficulty.
The unfortunate clash between Ruskin and Whistler, in which the latter won his suit with a verdict of one farthing, has caused many to believe that Ruskin was in no sense of the word an artist.
Severely rigid regard for unessential detail in the drawings of the Victorian Era made for one of the worst periods in art history, in that the aesthetic sense of
organization of form, color, and tone were often lost in a “tight” representation of prettiness and sentimentality.
The style of his time influenced Ruskin to such an extent that his finished drawings resemble those of Turner, whom he greatly admired. Whistler was such
. a powerful reactionary influence on the style of the time that Ruskin misunderstood him, while Ruskin's adherence to rigid realism incited contempt on the part of the none too charitable or sympathetic Whistler.
Real artists are always seeking truth, but few indeed recognize it when they see it. Ruskin was not an exception.
The last four lines of a letter, reproduced on page 221, show a natural rebellion against the period.
If Ruskin had realized that the “fragments which were useful to him and absurd to other people” were infinitely better than his own finished work, and that those “fragments" contained the element of art as expressed by all peoples in the best periods, he might have done notable work as an artist.
In the sketches at Margate and Tintagal he shows a remarkable feeling for form, composition, and simplicity of expression.
His hasty and carelessly written letters are sincere, and show his desire to help and teach. The second sheet of the letter on page 222 is really an extension assignment. His advice to the student is to be literal in chiaroscuro; he says nothing about the constructive design, radiation of lines, or beauty of the curves in the shell. This is quite in keeping with his own art work, his teachings, and his writings. He describes with sincerity, and with well chosen words gives an excellent mental image of color and form. Illustrative in type, one feels that his works lack aesthetic background, but these sketches, which he did not seem to consider of any merit,