In "Of Truth of Colour," Ruskin thoroughly discusses the necessity of an honest portrayal of nature in crafting superior artwork. His main argument centers on the belief that art should contain the closest representation of nature achievable, taking into consideration the inevitable disparity between the vibrant quality of colors found in nature and those readily at the disposal of humankind for artistic purposes. Throughout the text, Ruskin hails Turner above all other artists for accomplishing this feat,

Blue he gives to his sea; so does nature; — blue he gives, sapphire-deep, to his extreme distance; so does nature; — blue he gives to the mist shadows and hollows of his hills; so does nature: but blue he gives not, where detail and illumined surface are visible; as he comes into light and character, so he breaks into warmth and varied hue; nor is there in one of his works, and I speak of the Academy pictures especially, one touch of cold colour which is not to be accounted for, and proved right and full of meaning.

Ruskin clearly admires the way in which Turner captures various aspects of nature, including the sea, shadows, and distance, through the use of their exact colors as found in nature. He claims, in a way, that Turner's art actually makes sense because it represents images as they are perceived in the natural universe. Interestingly, although Ruskin urges artists to observe nature and to recreate, to the best of their abilities, what they observe, he also discusses the inability of the human mind to conceive and to remember properly the precise beauty of nature.

Even granting the constant vigour of observation, and supposing the possession of such impossible knowledge, it needs but a moment's reflection to prove how incapable the memory is of retaining for any time the distinct image of the sources even of its most vivid impressions. What recollection have we of the sunsets which delighted us last year?

It appears contradictory that Ruskin would recommend so strongly the direct observation of nature in order to ensure an accurate portrayal and then discredit the abilities of most individuals to perform this task well, if at all. However, this contradiction merely suggests Ruskin's belief that capturing the essence of nature proves an art in itself, elusive to even some of the most renowned artists of his time.


1. Ruskin repeats the phrase, "so does nature" a number of times in the first excerpt above. He also repeats sentence structure. Why does Ruskin choose to employ such flagrant repetition? What effect does this have on the reader and the reading of the text?

2. Modern Painters caused a great deal of controversy upon its publication because in it Ruskin denounced a number of respected artists of the post-Renaissance era. Why would Ruskin choose to publish such controversial material? What does the public's reaction to Modern Painters say about its opinion on the painters that Ruskin criticized? Why would the public feel so strongly on this issue?

3. How does Ruskin's discussion of color in modern painting compare to that of his discussion of water in modern painting in, "On the Truth of Water?"

4. Why does Ruskin feel that much of the art from the post-Renaissance period was contrived? What specific techniques employed by Turner in his painting set his works apart so drastically from the artists criticized by Ruskin in Of Truth of Colour?

Victorian Overview John Ruskin Leading Questions

Last modified 14 April 2009