At c. 11x18cm, this small watercolour forms part of a body of material in The Ruskin Whitehouse Collection which, to date, is unresearched. The date and location are unknown. The ruled area, within which geological gradation is detailed on layered blue and sepia wash, suggests the piece was completed as an observational exercise, reflected in its catalogue title, Geological formation: study.

Ruskin’s fascination with geology began in boyhood, encouraged by his father’s purchase of a collection of mineral specimens during a visit to the Lake District from the dealer Daniel Crosthwaite (1776-1847) of Keswick. He became an avid collector and knowledgeable amateur geologist, returning to the study of rock formations in a range of media throughout his life. In The Elements of Drawing, one of the first exercises Ruskin recommended was to draw a stone: ‘Go out into your garden, or into the road, and pick up the first round or oval stone you can find […] if you can draw that stone, you can draw anything; I mean, anything that is drawable. Many things (sea foam, for instance) cannot be drawn at all, only the idea of them more or less suggested; but if you can draw the stone rightly, everything within reach of art is also within yours’ (LE 15 (1904)/48-49).

The study of the natural world through empirical observation was the foundation of Ruskin’s interlinked practices as both artist and amateur scientist. In Modern Painters IV, ‘Of Mountain Beauty’, he describes the process by which ‘as an artist increases in acuteness of perception, the facts which become outward and apparent to him are those which bear upon the growth or make of the thing …; so, in looking at these rocks, the keenness of the artist’s eye may almost precisely be tested by the degree in which he perceives the curves that give them their strength … Thus the ten years of study which I have given to these mountains … have enabled me to ascertain, and now generally at a glance to see, … that even the fissures or edges which appear perfectly straight have almost always some delicate sympathy with the curves’ (LE 6 (1904)/232-233).

Reference no. 1996P1297


  • Title: Geological formation: study
  • Creator: John Ruskin
  • Rights: The Ruskin, Lancaster University

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