the only child of John James Ruskin, a partner in a successful wine business. Among his earliest publications were poems and stories written for Christmas annuals. He also devoted time to drawing; and with the first of the five volumes of Modern Painters (1843) he became the public champion of Turner and other contemporary artists.
Seven months' work in Italy in preparation for Modern Painters II (1846) confirmed Ruskin in his ‘function as interpreter’. They also compelled him to write of the medieval buildings of Europe before they should be destroyed by neglect, restoration, industrialization, and revolutions. Modern Painters III and IV appeared in 1856; vol. V in 1860, The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1851–3) were written during the period of his marriage to Euphemia Chalmers Gray, for whom the lastingly popular The King of the Golden River (1851) had been a gift. In 1854, after seven years of marriage, she divorced him on grounds of impotence, and soon afterwards married Millais. Ruskin had defended Millais and the Pre‐Raphaelites in letters to The Times and the pamphlet Pre‐Raphaelitism (1851). He continued to notice their work in Notes on the Royal Academy (1855–9 and 1875).
Ruskin wrote for the Arundel Society (Giotto and His Works in Padua, 1853–4, 1860), taught at the Working Men's College in Red Lion Square, produced drawing manuals, helped with plans for the Oxford Museum of Natural History building, arranged for the National Gallery the drawings of the Turner bequest, tried to guide the work of individual artists (D. G. Rossetti, J. Inchbold, J. W. Brett). Some of his addresses appeared in Lectures on Architecture and Painting (1854) and The Two Paths (1859). Speaking in Manchester on The Political Economy of Art (1857), Ruskin challenged economic laws affecting matters in which he had a standing. In the final volume of Modern Painters (1860) he denounced greed as the deadly principle guiding English life. In attacking the ‘pseudo‐science’ of J. S. Mill and Ricardo in Unto this Last (1860) and Essays on Political Economy (1862–3; later Munera Pulveris, 1872), Ruskin declared open warfare against the spirit of science of his times.
This fight, against competition and self‐interest, for the recovery of heroic, feudal, and Christian social ideals was to occupy Ruskin for the rest of his life. It is expressed in considerations of engraving or Greek myth (The Cestus of Aglaia, 1865–6; The Queen of the Air, 1869), geology lectures for children (The Ethics of the Dust, 1866), as essays on the respective duties of men and women (Sesame and Lilies, 1865, 1871), lectures on war, work, and trade (The Crown of Wild Olives, 1866, 1873), or letters to a workman (Time and Tide, by Weare and Tyne, 1867). In Fors Clavigera (1871–8) he found a serial form well suited to his public teaching and to the diversity of his interests, which also expressed themselves during the 1870s and 1880s in a multitude of writings on natural history, travel, painting, etc., and in practical projects, many associated with the Guild of St George, a Utopian society founded by Ruskin under his own mastership in 1871.