In "Of Truth of Colour," a chapter from his work Modern Painters, Ruskin offers his conception of ideal painting that conveys a specific moment truthfully with the use of color. Ruskin contrasts his ideal to the typically celebrated old masters, who in his opinion did not attempt an accurate rendering of color (and, more importantly, light) in nature. Ruskin concedes that the intensity of color in nature and its ever-changing quality can never be faithfully represented on the canvas; however, he elevates those artists, like Turner, who attempt to make their colors reflect the vibrancy of a particular scene. In his celebration of Turner and others Ruskin suffuses his language with religious metaphor, suggesting that experiencing nature's beauty through art has here an element of the sublime. These core elements of Ruskin's argument all appear in the following comparison of the old master Poussin's painting to his perception of the actual scene.

There is, in the first room of the National Gallery, a landscape attributed to Gaspar Poussin...it is a town on a hill, wood with two-and-thirty bushes, of very uniform size, and possessing about the same number of leaves each. These bushes are all painted in with one dull opaque brown...

But as I climbed the long slope of the Alban mount, the storm swept finally to the north, and the noble outline of the domes of Albano and graceful darkness of its ilex grove rose against pure streaks of alternate blue and amber...Purple, and crimson, and scarlet, like the curtains of God's tabernacle, the rejoicing trees sank into he valley in showers of light, every separate leaf quivering with buoyant and burning life.

Questions

What is the significance of Ruskin's focus on representing the individuality of the scene rather than a generic landscape? How does this focus relate to political and cultural currents at the time and in the PRB?

How does Ruskin's emphasis on the religious nature of viewing landscape alter the role and responsibility of the artist?

Why does Ruskin elevate rural landscape above the modern cityscape?

In what ways does color provide such an important avenue for Ruskin to discuss his thoughts on the ideal goals of painting?


Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 12 September 2004