Issues and Context of Modern Painters by John Ruskin
By Hanna Yakovleva
‘There is no more in Turner’s painting of water surface than any philosophy of reflection.'
‘The marvellous brilliance of the arrangement of color in this picture… to my mind, one of Turner’s leading works in oil.’
‘The most perfectly beautiful piece of colour of all that I have seen produced by human hands, by any means, or at any period’. ‘No man had ever painted the surface of calm water but Turner’ - Sensuous & literal element.'
'Nothing could be more faithful than the boat, … it occupies the center, … a stream of spending color fell from it.'
'Sea is not plaint gray sea surface but playing surface, full of indefinite hue.'
Quites from Modern Painters by John Ruskin in the description of this painting.
John Ruskin (1819-1900) was one of the greatest Victorians, the leading English art critic, art patron, watercolorist, social critic and philosopher. His range of interests and achievements were very wide. It was fundamental for him to make links between all subjects and disciplines - for example, nature and art, science and religion. Somehow he could always see the whole picture. Leo Tolstoy said that Ruskin was: "one of those rare men who think with their hearts."
Ruskin was extremely influential in the latter half of the 19th century by his concerns and ideas, difficult to overestimate his influence on environmentalism, sustainability and craft. Looking ahead, providing some vivid numbers: “Ruskin’s thirty-nine volumes of work contain nine million words; his correspondence ran to twenty thousand letters; his sketches, drawing and paintings would also run into the thousands.”
The most influential artist through Ruskin’s art critic career and beyond that was, undoubtedly, Turner.
He first became aware of Turner’s work at the age of thirteen, having a gift book of poems with artist’s engravings. Ruskin was touched by that experience so much that later he will describe it: ‘I had of looking carefully at Turner's work, and I might, not without some appearance of reason, attribute to the gift the entire direction of my life's energies'.
Ruskin should have visited annual exhibitions of the Royal Academy and the British Institution from the late 1830’s. He together with his father began to collect Turner’s works, owned few important oil paintings and some watercolors.
Their first meeting at the house of the picture dealer was in 1840 and Ruskin claimed that Turner was ‘the great [artist] of the age… at once the painter and the poet of the day’ despite of everybody’s opinion of him being unintellectual and vulgar, as he wrote in his diary. Indeed, Turner was mocked by the critics and unappreciated by the public due to artist’s new true-to-life style.
WHAT WAS IT in William Turner's art that so immensely captured John Ruskin that he almost devoted his life to the advocacy of it? Maybe he saw some of his own transformed desires in the works of the great master of light, surf and rock. I deliberately avoid the modern term sublimation, since this mental state neither was modern nor sublime, but heavy as the stones of Venice he also chose to write about and life surely taught Ruskin lessons as harsh as those ethics of the dust he lectured the young girls at Winnington school about.
SUBLIMATE - verb
1 [with object] (especially in psychoanalytic theory) divert or modify (an instinctual impulse) into a culturally higher or socially more acceptable activity: people who will sublimate sexuality into activities which help to build up and preserve civilization he sublimates his hurt and anger into humour.