The Richard McDougall Lecture series

Ruskin Unpossessed

Speaker: Jeremy Melius - Visiting Scholar, Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Painting depicting clouds against a blue sky i John Ruskin, Study of Clouds in Turner’s “Campo Santo, Venice”, 1859-60. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

This lecture explores the aesthetic and ethical parameters of John Ruskin’s watercolour practice. As in his acts of verbal description, the Victorian critic’s pictures staged distinctive modes of attention for his audiencesmodelling ways of closely observing visual phenomena and taking their significance inIn the process, however, as they brought the observed world onto the two-dimensional sheet, revelling in their grasp of detail, the drawings also refused to pin that world down, proposing that the act of depiction instead remain openmobile, never fully complete. Like the best of his writings, thenRuskin’s drawings constituted an art of unpossession, with real consequences for the understanding of his thought. But as it ranges over the sheer variety of his visual work—from nature studies to architectural fancies to copies after pictures from the past—the lecture also suggests some of the ways the visual might be distinguished from the verbal in Ruskin’s case. Drawing out the difference picturing makes in his relation to the world, it examines how Ruskin’s engagement with the medium of watercolour led his pictures to suggest things his words could never say.   

Jeremy Melius is a historian of modern art, focussed on the trajectories of art making and art writing in Britain and Europe since 1800. Currently Visiting Scholar at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, he has published widely on figures such as John Ruskin, Walter Pater, Adolf Hildebrand, Pablo Picasso, and Lee Bontecou. He has recently completed a book on the invention of Botticelli and is at work on another concerning the fraught relation between Ruskin and art history.   

Organised by Professor Caroline Arscott (The Courtauld). 

This event has passed.

10 Mar 2022

Thursday 10th March 2022, 6.00pm - 7.30pm

Free, booking essential

Lecture Theatre 1, Vernon Square and online via Livestream

Please note this event will be live streamed to allow those outside London access to the event. All those who wish to access the event via this online method should book a ‘Livestream’ ticket rather than ‘Lecture Theatre’ ticket.

Booking closes 30 minutes before the event start time.