John Ruskin: The Life and Philosophy of a Leading Art Critic of the Nineteenth Century

John Ruskin was one of the most important figures in the field of art criticism during the 19th century. He was a prolific writer, artist, and philosopher who influenced generations of artists after him. In this blog post, we’ll explore the life and philosophy of this esteemed thinker, as well as his contributions to the arts and crafts movement.

Who was John Ruskin, and What Was He Known For?

John Ruskin was born in 1819 in London to a wealthy family. Ruskin was a brilliant student and an accomplished artist himself, but he is best known as a critic, writer, and philosopher. Ruskin’s work covered a wide range of topics, from art and architecture to political economy and social reform.

One of Ruskin’s most significant contributions was his association with the arts and crafts movement, which he helped establish. This movement was a response to the negative effects of industrialization on society and the arts. The movement promoted the use of traditional techniques and materials in art and crafts, as well as the idea that art and craft should be accessible to all people, not just the wealthy.

Ruskin was also a prominent figure in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which sought to revive the styles and techniques of early Italian Renaissance art. He was an art critic for both The Times and the Academy of Fine Arts, and his writings on art criticism shaped the way that many artists and critics approached their work.

What Happened to John Ruskin? How Did He Die?

John Ruskin suffered from a variety of health problems throughout his life, including mental health issues that were not well understood at the time. In 1878, Ruskin suffered a mental breakdown which led to his retirement as a public figure.

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Ruskin continued to write and work on his art until his death in 1900. He died of influenza at the age of 81.

John Ruskin’s Philosophy

At the heart of Ruskin’s philosophy was his belief in the power of beauty to transform society. Ruskin believed that beauty was not just an aesthetic quality, but a moral one as well. He saw beauty as a reflection of the divine, and argued that the pursuit of beauty was a way to connect with the divine.

Ruskin was a strong advocate for environmentalism, long before the term was even coined. He believed in the importance of preserving natural landscapes and protecting them from industrialization and urbanization. Ruskin saw the natural world as a source of inspiration for art, and believed that artists had a responsibility to reflect the beauty of nature in their work.

Ruskin was also an advocate for social justice. He believed that society had a duty to provide for the well-being of all its members, especially the poor. He argued that economic and social inequality were the root causes of many social ills, and that these problems could only be addressed through radical reforms.

John Ruskin and the Arts and Crafts Movement

The arts and crafts movement was born out of a desire to reject the mass-produced goods of the industrial revolution and return to the traditional techniques of craftsmanship. Ruskin was a strong advocate for this movement, and his writings on art and crafts were instrumental in shaping its philosophy.

Ruskin believed that the art and craft should be accessible to all people, not just the wealthy. He argued that the beauty of art and craft should be visible in everyday objects, such as furniture and clothing. He celebrated the work of craftsmen and artisans, and believed that these workers should be valued and respected for their skills.

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What Inspired John Ruskin?

Many things inspired John Ruskin throughout his life, including the beauty of the natural world, the works of art and architecture from different cultures, and his own experiences as an artist.

Ruskin was particularly drawn to the art and architecture of the Middle Ages, which he saw as an authentic expression of human creativity and spirituality. He believed that the great works of art and architecture from this period were created by craftsmen who worked with love and reverence for their materials.

Ruskin was also deeply influenced by his own experiences as an artist. He believed that the act of creating art was a spiritual practice that helped to connect the artist with the divine. Ruskin saw art as a way to express the beauty of the world and the emotions of the artist.


John Ruskin was a seminal figure in the world of art criticism and philosophy. He championed the importance of beauty, craftsmanship, and social justice, and his ideas continue to influence artists and thinkers today. Whether you are interested in art, philosophy, or social reform, there is much to learn from the life and work of John Ruskin.