• 2 June 2017
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm
  • Seminar Room, Paul Mellon Centre

This proposed paper will evaluate Ruskin’s and Pater’s use of ‘drawing’ and ‘colour’ in their accounts of Venetian and Victorian painting. Pater’s ‘The School of Giorgione’ (1877) is often read as an elitist contemplation of some kind of autonomous aesthetic trance. However I will argue Pater’s essay transforms Ruskin’s theories of ‘drawing’, ‘colour’ and Venetian colouristic painting to theorise a painting that depicts experiences of modernity in late-nineteenth-century London.

Ruskin’s The Elements of Drawing (1857) repudiates what has been called ‘the ideology of industrialisation’ by emphasizing shading, gradation and colour. It seeks to emancipate the nineteenth-century mind so that it can experience itself as a part of, and apart from nature. But I will suggest the programme of colouristic drawing disintegrates when it encounters modernity.

Pater refines Ruskinian ‘drawing’ and transforms it into a function of ‘colour’, a kind of ‘colour’ that can depict experiences of modernity. Reading Titian as Tissot, I will suggest where Ruskin suspends modernity, Pater relishes its transgressive and erotic opportunities. I will argue that Pater theorises Aestheticist painting’s evacuation of narrative, signification and time—in a word drawing—from an idea of pure colour that is a fixed moment of passionate and perhaps ‘perverted’ life, as depicted in J. M. Whistler’s Symphony in White No. 2 (1864). In the words of Pater’s ‘Conclusion’, ‘Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself is the end’. I will suggest that if the fruit of experience is ‘drawing’, experience is ‘colour’.

About the speaker

  • Thomas Hughes is an associate lecturer at the Courtauld. He co-edited Ruskin’s Ecologies: Figures of Relation from Modern Painters to The Storm-Cloud (2021) with Kelly Freeman and has published essays on Ruskin, drawing and ecology (2022); on Ruskin, temporality and Venetian Gothic (2021); and on subjectivity and language in art-historical writing (2020). He is co-editing with Emma Merkling a book redefining the Victorian idyll, and co-editing with Rachel Stratton a special issue of Journal 21 on realism. He has an essay on Ruskin and Pater at Amiens Cathedral to be published soon by Éditions de la Sorbonne in an edited volume on couples and art history.