John Ruskin - Victorian Art Critic and Social Activist

No one had an impact on the art of Victorian England comparable to John Ruskin. Not only in writing but in practice, Ruskin married art criticism to social theory. Discover an individual who puts the “middle-class” newspaper armchair art critic of today to shame. As an art critic, Ruskin made Victorian Britain proud of their contemporary landscape tradition, describing it as the equal of anything on the Continent. He lionised the painter, J.M.W. Turner in his five volume work, Modern Painters. In his writings and via his philanthropy, he emphatically asserted the connection between a society’s cultural aesthetic and its social equity. Discover an individual who has inspired artists, civic planners, social reformers and politicians.

This class will be delivered face-to-face at WEA Sydney. Enrolling students need to ensure they have read the current COVID-19 Safety Guidance that WEA Sydney has put in place before enrolling.


  • Elizabeth Baigent, Nobler imaginings and mightier struggles : Octavia Hill, social activism and the remaking of British society (University of London: 2016).
  • Thomas Carlyle, Selected Writings (Penguin Classics: 2015).
  • Mark Frost, The Lost Companions and John Ruskin’s Guild of St George: A Revisionary History (Anthem Press: 2014).
  • Robert Hewison, John Ruskin: The Argument of the Eye (Princeton University Press: 1976).
  • Robert Hewison, Ruskin, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites (Tate Gallery Publishing: 2000).
  • Rosemary Hill, God’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain (Penguin Books: 2007).
  • Tristram Hunt, Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City (Penguin Books: 2019).
  • Linda Merrill, A Pot of Paint: Aesthetics on Trail in Whistler v. Ruskin (Smithsonian Institution Press: 1992).
  • John Ruskin, Modern Painters .,ed David Barrie (Andre Deutsch Limited: 1987).
  • John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (Dover Publications: 1989).
  • John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice .,ed.J.G. Links (Da Capo Press: 2003).
  • John Ruskin, Lectures on Art (Allworth Press: 1996).
  • John Ruskin, Unto This Last and Other Writings (Penguin Classics: 1997).
  • John Ruskin, Praeterita: The Autobiography of John Ruskin (Oxford University Press: 1978).
  • Sarah Quill, Ruskin’s Venice: The Stone’s Revisited (Lund Humphries: 2003).


  • Ruskin the art critic: We will see how Ruskin’s writings on the visual arts, starting with the first volume of Modern Painters - a work that championed the career of the landscape painter, J.M.W.Tuner - became an immensely influential point of access into the visual arts for a new rising industrial middle class.
  • Ruskin the social thinker and activist: We will then examine Ruskin’s later career, as his attention turned more critically towards an attack on the laissez-faire economic system. We will see how Ruskin’s views on both art and society informed his aim to convince Britain’s middle classes to abandon the economic and social morality of the market-driven world. This social vision was first articulated in a series of articles entitled Unto This Last. A work held in high regard by the first MPs of the British Labour party and a highly transformative book for the young Gandhi.
  • Ruskin and our world: Finally, we will examine Ruskin’s 1884 lecture, The Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century. This atypical work can lay claim to being the first modern account of the symbiotic relationship of human society to ecology and a prefigurement of human-induced climate change.


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. See Ruskin’s life within the broader cultural, intellectual, social and civic identity of Victorian Britain.
  2. Gain an appreciation for Ruskin’s significance today. How the social, economic and even aesthetic issues of his time, are still as pertinent to us now.
  3. Understand Ruskin from the perspective of his upbringing, personal relationships and mental health and how these influenced his views on art and society.
$65 Limited

<p>No one had an impact on the art of Victorian England comparable to John Ruskin. Not only in writing but in practice, Ruskin married art criticism to social theory. Discover an individual who puts

16 Feb

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