John Ruskin (1819-1900)

There is so much to say about John Ruskin's life and work that is admirable, still influencing the way we view art, architecture and social thinking today. But, to her shame, the VV is here to perpetuate some gossip regarding his personal life, her only defence being that the following tale is related to a previous post about his marriage to Effie Gray.

For a man whose interest in the physical side of marriage appeared to be non-existent, it is interesting to investigate how he came to marry Effie Gray - an attractive and lively young woman whose charms had inspired several offers of marriage and led to some broken hearts.

John Ruskin's interest first began was Effie was a child, their parents already being acquainted and often sharing time together. Ruskin became very fond of the girl and when he was was twenty-one and Effie only twelve she inspired him to write a fairytale. The King of Golden River was published in 1851 and became a Victorian classic.
John Ruskin as a child

There is some evidence that much like his friend Lewis Carroll, Ruskin simply felt more at ease in the uncomplicated and innocent company of the young, perhaps reliving his own happy childhood through them.
 Ruskin's portrait of Rose la Touche

But  it was Rose La Touche, first met when she was nine years old, who eventually won Ruskin's heart. Engaged by Rose's family as a tutor, Ruskin was to write, "...in the eventful year of 1858, a lady wrote to me from - somewhere near Green Street, W., - saying, as people sometimes did, in those days, that she saw I was the only sound teacher in Art...that she wanted her children - two boys and a girl - taught the beginnings of Art rightly; especially the younger girl, in whom she thought I might find some power worth developing."

Ruskin and Rose became very close and when not together they wrote several letters. She addressed him as St Crumpet. He eventually proposed marriage in 1868 by which time he was almost fifty and Rose was but eighteen. However, concerned about Rose's future happiness, her family wrote to Effie Gray Millais to enquire as to the truth surrounding the scandal of her own marriage to Ruskin. Effie's response was to suggest that such a marriage should not go ahead, and whether it was this influence or other religious differences, Rose finally turned the proposal down.

Rose la Touche on her deathbed by Ruskin

The result was great unhappiness. Rose died at the age of twenty-seven having been placed in a nursing home by her parents who feared their daughter had gone mad. The tragedy of her death led to Ruskin's despair and deterioration. During bouts of insanity he became quite convinced that the Renaissance artist, Carpaccio, had included Rose's portrait in his paintings of Saint Ursula. He also employed the services of mediums to contact Rose's spirit.

Whatever misery and pain had been caused to Effie Gray during her marriage to Ruskin, it would seem that he paid the heaviest price. Effie's revenge was a dish served cold, but a dish of the utmost potency.

If you would like to read more about Effie, Ruskin and Rose la Touche, the VV can heartily recommend Suzanne Fagence Cooper's book: The Model Wife: Effie, Ruskin and Millais which is described in more detail in this related post. 


  1. Damn, I had no idea Ruskin and Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson were close friends.

    Depending on who you read, Carroll was either a man emotionally focused on pre-pubescent girls or a man sexually comforted by little girls. Neither alternative was a good omen for the future Mrs Ruskin.

  2. Oh my, that's quite a story.
    Revenge is a dicey dish to serve,
    hot or cold.
    Thanks, that was a fun read.

  3. "Bonsoir,"
    Excuse my english, but I am looking for information about one of the Queen Victoria's passion: photography. I discovered the interest of Dodgson for the photography.... On my Blog( http://mimsyattitude.blogspot.com/2010/11/alice-and-peter-from-scotland.html written in french, of course it is easier fo me!), you can see two photos of Ruskin and Dodgson that must come from caroll's studio: same position, same chair... I would like to find more information about any relationship between her majesty and Ruskin...
    Note an interesting exhibition at Le Musée d'Orsay in march 2011 about the photography and Pre-Raphaelites....
    I will now keep surfing on your blog and the articles with much pleasure and interest I'm sure!!!
    Thank you for the article!
    "Meilleurs Voeux et Bonnes Fêtes!!!"

  4. Dear Francois, Hello and I'm so glad you've found the Virtual Victorian...I don't have any specific information regarding Ruskin's relationship with Queen Victoria at the moment, but should I come across anything I will let you know.

    Sorry I couldn't be of more help just now.

    Very best wishes.

    Essie Fox

  5. Francois, one possible avenue to explore, would be to look up one Julia Margaret Cameron, who acquired for herself the title of "World's First Art Photographer", courtesy of her dream-like portraiture and set pieces. Indeed, there's a whole world of Pre-Raphaelite photography you can explore, which along the way may provide links to Queen Victoria's interest in the subject.

    Incidentally, Julia Margaret Cameron's work is well worth studying in its own right. She was very definitely what one might call "individual" in her approach to the subject, which is why several scholars regard her as the first true art photographer. She spent a fair part of her career reproducing scenes from Arthurian legend on film, in a manner that is so manifestly influenced by Pre-Raphaelite art, that it's easy to see why she became labelled a Pre-Raphaelite herself. :)

  6. There are a few references to the work of Julia Cameron in this blog, but nothing as substantial as there really should be.