The Elements Of Drawing || John Ruskin

Illustrated edition with notes by Bernard Dunstan

It speaks volumes for the quality of this classic that it’s still in print 150 years after it first appeared. Actually, it says even more when you realise that this illustrated edition has itself been around since 1991 and is now on its fourth reprint.

What you get is Ruskin’s original text, written at a time when books relied on words rather than illustrations and therefore goes into a great deal of detail about the principles and practice of drawing. It’s a note on the attitudes of the time that each of the chapters relates to a law: the law of curvatures, the law of contrast and so on. In 1857, rules were much more important than they are now and a modern writer would probably refer to “principles” rather than “laws”, but the basic idea remains valid and the rules of perspective and composition still apply just as they did. In addition to this, Bernard Dunstan adds many illustrations in black and white and colour which complement what is said in the main text and also marginal notes which clarify some of Ruskin’s points which require a gloss for the modern reader.

In an earlier review, I described Jane Stobart’s Drawing Matters as possibly the most important art book since Ruskin’s Elements of Drawing and the two of them certainly complement each other well, book-ending 150 years of history as they do and showing how, while everything changes, at the same time, nothing changes. You should regard this present volume as being of interest for the artist of today and by no means just a historical footnote. Smart lads, those Victorians!

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