“3, RUE DU COLYSEE,
“Thursday Evening, 24th” (December, 1855).
“THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF ART” (1857-1858)
The humble work of the drawing-classes at Great Ormond Street was teaching Ruskin even more than he taught his pupils. It was showing him how far his plans were practicable; how they should be modified; how they might be improved; and especially what more, beside drawing-classes, was needed to realize his ideal. He was anxiously willing to co-operate with every movement, to join hands with any kind of man, to go anywhere, do anything that might promote the cause he had at heart.
Already at the end of 1854 he had given three lectures, his second course, at the Architectural Museum, specially addressed to workmen in the decorative trades. His subjects were design and colour, and his illustrations were chiefly drawn from mediaeval illumination, which he had long been studying. These were informal, quasi-private affairs, which nevertheless attracted notice owing to the celebrity of the speaker. It would have been better if his addresses had been carefully prepared and authentically published; for a chance word here and there raised replies about matters of detail in which his critics thought they had gained a technical advantage, adding weight to his father’s desire not to see him “expose himself” in this way. There were no more lectures until the beginning of 1857.
On January 23rd, 1857, he spoke before the Architectural Association upon “The Influence of Imagination in Architecture,” repeating and amplifying what he had said at Edinburgh about the subordinate value of proportion, and the importance of sculptured ornament based on natural forms. This of course would involve the creation of a class of stone-carvers who could be trusted with the execution of such work. Once grant the value of it, and public demand would encourage the supply, and the workmen would raise themselves in the effort.
A louder note was sounded in an address at the St. Martin’s School of Art, Castle Street, Long Acre (April 3rd, 1857), where, speaking after George Cruikshank, his old friend—practically his first master—and an enthusiastic philanthropist and temperance advocate, Ruskin gave his audience a wider view of art than they had known before: “the kind of painting they most wanted in London was painting cheeks red with health.” This was anticipating the standpoint of the Oxford Lectures, and showed how the inquiry was beginning to take a much broader aspect.
Another work in a similar spirit, the North London School of Design, had been prosperously started by a circle of men under Pre-Raphaelite influence, and led by Thomas Seddon. He had given up historical and poetic painting for naturalistic landscape, and had returned from the East with the most valuable studies completed, only to break down and die prematurely. His friends, among them Holman Hunt, were collecting money to buy from the widow his picture of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, to present it to the National Gallery as a memorial of him; and at a meeting for the purpose, Ruskin spoke warmly of his labours in the cause of the working classes.