Ruskin rests easy

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T

he Ashmolean Museum acquired a celebrated portrait of John Ruskin by John Everett Millais this week.

The painting, which is worth £7 million, is one of the most important Pre-Raphaelite paintings remaining in private ownership.

The Director of the Musuem, Professor  Christopher Brown CBE described the work as an “extraordinary picture” which is “of supreme importance for the study of 19th century British art.”

The painting was begun in summer of 1853 when Ruskin, his wife Effie, and the artist John Everett Millais were on holiday in Scotland together.

It is thought that during the trip Millais fell in love with Effie Ruskin, which set off a chain of events resulting in the annulment of Ruskin and Effie’s marriage, the end of Ruskin and Millais’ friendship, and Millais distancing himself from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

Despite this, Millais finished the portrait, describing the process as “the most hateful task I have ever had to perform”.

Ruskin subsequently gave the painting to his friend Henry Wentworth Acland, who later became the Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford. The painting hung in his Broad Street home for 60 years, and was then auctioned off to an anonymous buyer in 1965.

The portrait was previously displayed in the Tate’s exhibition “Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde”, but has been on loan to the Ashmolean since January 2012.

Becky Luffman, a second year English student at Keble, commented: “I’m really excited about the painting coming permanently to the Ashmolean.

“As a big fan of the Pre-Raphaelites, I’m thrilled to have one of their most significant paintings in Oxford for us all to enjoy.”

Millais was a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in 1848 along with William Holman Hunt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The movement rejected its predecessors’ art, pioneering a move towards realistic representations of subject and a refusal to embellish nature’s pre-existing beauty.

The portrait was given to the Ashmolean by the Arts Council England under the Lieu of Inheritance scheme, which allowed it former owner to give the work to the nation instead of paying Inheritance Tax.

Ruskin came to Christ Church to study in 1836, before becoming the Slade Professor of Fine Art in 1869.

Through this position he founded the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in 1871, which has since gone on to become the Faculty of Fine Art for the University.

Ruskin College in Headington, an institute for adult learners returning to education, was named after him in 1899 in recognition of his writings in support of education for workers.

Effie, a film about the painting written by and starring Emma Thompson, is due to be released later this year.