Jacket Image

Enlarge Image

200 × 130 × 17 mm
224 pages
30 illustrations
01 May 2015
Critical Lives

John Ruskin Andrew Ballantyne

John Ruskin understood beauty and wonder to be the solution to the miseries of the urban poor and the key to living a worthwhile life. The most prominent critic of art and architecture of the nineteenth century, his books, pamphlets and open letters to the press influenced all classes of society, from labourers to lords. Currently he is perhaps almost as well known for his failed marriage (to Effie Gray, who left him for the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais) as he is for his art writings, but there is far more to Ruskin than is suggested by movies that portray him as a desk-bound effigy, a humourless Victorian prude.

Andrew Ballantyne weaves Ruskin’s life and work into a fascinating account of a precocious individual tirelessly campaigning throughout Victorian England, and reveals in what ways and why Ruskin’s critical reputation endures. Encouraged by his parents to write about the ethical and spiritual value of art, it was in their lifetimes that Ruskin produced his best works – Modern Painters, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, The Stones of Venice and the essays on political economy published as Unto This Last. After their deaths Ruskin was bewildered, but eventually he put himself in the hands of a younger cousin. In relative seclusion at Brantwood, Ruskin’s home in the Lake District, the cousin was able to guard Ruskin’s reputation while, hidden from the public gaze, Ruskin himself suffered a slow decline as his mind became irreversibly unhinged.

The originality of Ruskin’s influential books and essays imbued architecture and the arts with a uniquely forceful moral character. With fresh readings of the major texts, this new biography is an engaging, informing study of the life and times of a peerless campaigner of art practice as a means to life.

Shortlisted for the Ruskin Society Book Prize 2015’ — Award

‘It is good to have a new book about John Ruskin that is short, informative, and accessible . . . Architectural historian Ballantyne sets out the essentials of Ruskins life the early years with his adoring parents, the notoriety of Modern Painters, the disastrous marriage to Effie Gray, the commitment to museums and workers education, the Whistler suit, and the final mental collapse while providing authoritative analysis of his connection to picturesque theory, Turners genius, the Pre-Raphaelites, and the Gothic Revival . . . Overall, an attractive, well-written introduction to the life and thought of one of the great Victorians . . . Recommended.’ — Choice

‘One of the objectives of the Ruskin Society is to make the life and work of Ruskin more widely known in the world beyond Ruskinian circles. That too has been Andrew Ballantyne's objective in this compact, lucid and accessibly written volume in which he analyses the life and work and highlights the relevance of many of Ruskin's ideas to the present, arguing that 'at his best he addresses fundamental issues about the world and our relationship with it, and with one another.’ — Jeffrey Richards, President of the Ruskin Society and Emeritus Professor of Cultural History at Lancaster University

Show all

Andrew Ballantyne is Professor of Architecture at Newcastle University. He has written extensively on architectural history and theory. His books include Architecture: A Very Short Introduction (2002) and, with Andrew Law, Tudoresque: In Pursuit of the Ideal Home (Reaktion, 2011).


1. A Start in Life

2. Turner and the Picturesque

3. The Pre-Raphaelites

4. The Seven Lamps of Architecture

5. Lapping Waves, Living Stones

6. Reform

7. Influence




Photo Acknowledgements