John Ruskin – Study of a Tracery Window at Merton College, Oxford

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Inscribed in pencil ‘about 1874 – or/75 J.R. ‘and’ R.98 (lower right). Pencil and bodycolour, with touches of black ink, on wove paper.

Provenance: Probably Doctor William Odling (1829-1921) or Thomas Case (1844-1925), thence by descent to Thomas George Odling (1911-2002) and Hilary Katharine Odling, of Paxford House, near Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. A year after her death, in 2019, the picture was auctioned as part of the subsidiary contents of Paxford House; RB Williams, Ross on Wye, 17th September 2020, Lot No. 1.

Sheet: 11 3/8 x 8 7/8 in. (29 x 22.5 cm.)
Mount: 20 1/8 x 17 1/8 in. (51.2 x 43.5 cm.)




There are two likely ways in which the drawing might have become part of the collection at Paxford. Firstly, Thomas’s father, Doctor William Odling was interested in art and was a prolific collector of old master prints. In 1868 he was appointed Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institute, a place where Ruskin gave many Friday Evening Discourses from the early 1860s to the mid-1870s. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to suppose that the paths of the two men may have crossed. Secondly, Thomas’s grandfather was Thomas Case (1844-1925), an academic, philosopher, sportsman and author. He was Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford, from 1868 to 1870, tutor at Balliol from 1870 to 1876, and subsequently on the staff of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He also became Waynflete Professor of Metaphysical Philosophy at Oxford and President of Corpus Christi College. He was particularly interested in architecture and was involved in various restoration projects in Oxford. Since Thomas Case and John Ruskin were in Oxford around the same time and held similar interests, it is quite likely that they would have met.


Ruskin, John (1819-1900)

John Ruskin was the leading English art critic of the Victorian era, as well as an art patron, draughtsman, watercolourist, a prominent social thinker, and philanthropist. He wrote on subjects as varied as geology, architecture, myth, ornithology, literature, education, botany, and political economy. His writing styles and literary forms were equally varied. He penned essays and treatises, poetry and lectures, travel guides and manuals, letters and even a fairy tale. He also made detailed sketches and paintings of rocks, plants, birds, landscapes, and architectural structures and ornamentation. The elaborate style that characterised his earliest writing on art gave way in time to plainer language designed to communicate his ideas more effectively. In all his writing, he emphasised the connections between nature, art, and society. He was hugely influential in the latter half of the 19th century and up to the First World War. After a period of relative decline, his reputation has steadily improved since the 1960s with the publication of numerous academic studies of his work. Today, his ideas and concerns are widely recognised as having anticipated interest in environmentalism, sustainability, and craft. Ruskin first came to widespread attention with the first volume of Modern Painters (1843), an extended essay in defence of the work of J. M. W. Turner in which he argued that the principal role of the artist is "truth to nature." From the 1850s, he championed the Pre-Raphaelites, who were influenced by his ideas. His work increasingly focused on social and political issues. Unto This Last (1860, 1862) marked the shift in emphasis. In 1869, Ruskin became the first Slade Professor of Fine Art at the University of Oxford, where he established the Ruskin School of Drawing. In 1871, he began his monthly "letters to the workmen and labourers of Great Britain", published under the title Fors Clavigera (1871–1884). During this complex and deeply personal work, he developed the principles underlying his ideal society. As a result, he founded the Guild of St George, an organisation that endures today.