The Walls of Lucerne by John Ruskin. c. 1866. Graphite, watercolour and bodycolour on blue paper, 34 x 48 cm. Collection: Ruskin Foundation (RF 1376), Ruskin Library, Lancaster University. ©Ruskin Foundation. The Library Edition of Modern Painters III included a monochrome reproduction of this work (V, facing xlviii), and it is also Plate 21 in Elizabeth K. Helsinger's Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder.” [Click on image to enlarge it.]

After providing the biographical context of this work and quoting Kenneth Clark's unfavorable comments upon it, Christopher Newall more perceptively points out that

the drawing exemplifies Ruskin's way of seeing, with areas of close and scrupulous observation, for example in the crenellation of the turret on the left side and with other parts that are abstractly but suggestively marked by mere washes of dilute colour. All is held together and linked by an encompassing zigzag pattern that sweeps across the width of the paper. Thus he seems to echo the motion of an excited eye as it searches for structure in the landscape and ranges from side to side across the breadth of a panoramic view. Colubrine patterns emerge, with elements assuming apparent importance and then expiring or withdrawing into obscurity, and other parts commencing as careful replications of forms but gradually translating into mere vibrato notations. Here we witness Ruskin transcending his self-appointed duty of record-making to explore and achieve aesthetic delight from line, pattern and colour, and investing his view with an overpowering emotional charge. [182-83]

Following Newall's analysis of the painting, one may add that Ruskin's controlling the viewer's eye here parallels the techniques of his famous word-painting.


Helsinger, Elizabeth K. Ruskin and the Art of the Beholder. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982. [Complete text in the Victorian Web.

Newall, Christopher (with contributions by Christopher Baker, Conal Shields, and Ian Jeffrey. John Ruskin Artist and Observer. Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada; London Paul Holberton Publishing, 2014. No. 30. [Review in the Victorian Web]

Ruskin, John. Works, "The Library Edition." eds. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. 39 vols. London: George Allen, 1903-1912.

Last modified 27 February 2014