John Ruskin letters to John Henry Le Keux
Scope and Contents
This collection comprises 53 items, including 42 letters from John Ruskin to John Henry Le Keux, 1 letter from John James Ruskin to John Henry Le Keux, 7 stand-alone sketches related to Le Keux’s engraving work for Ruskin, annotated printed proofs made by Le Keux for Ruskin and 1 letter from Henry W. Acland to John Ruskin which pertains to Le Keux’s work on the frontispiece for Acland and Ruskin’s The Oxford Museum. While the majority of the items are undated, the letters appear to have been authored between 1854 and 1860, with dated items ranging from 1855 to 1860. The items primarily pertain to Le Keux’s engraving work for illustrations for Volumes 3-4 of Modern Painters and for The Oxford Museum. The letters reflect a cordial professional relationship between Ruskin and Le Keux and a close collaboration between critic and engraver on a variety of works and subject matters. In one letter, Ruskin describes Le Keux’s etchings as “superb.” (John Ruskin letter to John Henry Le Keux, page 39.)
The correspondence reflects the scope of Ruskin’s Modern Painters, with the author asking his engraver to make prints of works by Claude Lorrain and J. M. W. Turner. Ruskin’s writing process relating to the later volumes is also made clear, with the correspondence revealing Ruskin’s decisions relating to the content, publication date and aspirations for the work. For instance, in one letter Ruskin discloses to Le Keux that he has decided to hold back certain text and illustrations for publication in the next volume of Modern Painters. Another letter reveals the complexity of Le Keux’s work for Ruskin, who expresses his desire for one illustration, the multi-figured Plate 25 “Things in General,” in Modern Painters volume IV, to reflect “Nature as far as [it] can, as she appears under Rembrantesque light and shade [...] the interpreting and explaining power of Dureresque art [and] the vulgarizing power of Blottesque or water colour art." (John Ruskin letter to John Henry Le Keux, pages 17 & 43-47). The letters between the pair convey close collaboration on illustrations for Ruskin’s texts and the great deal of attention the critic paid to the images appearing in his works. Ruskin gives detailed instructions to Le Keux regarding the depth and shading of his engravings and the color of ink to be used for trial proofs—most often grey, brown or blue. Often, Ruskin’s letters include sketches of Le Keux’s work in which Ruskin itemizes alterations to be made. In one of these, Ruskin makes a sketch of how Le Keux’s rendering of tree boughs in a reproduction of a work by Claude Lorrain has deviated from the original, remarking that, though Ruskin thinks the boughs “improved by the change, the public will say [that Ruskin and Le Keux] have travestied Claude.” (John Ruskin letter to John Henry Le Keux, pages 9-12.) The correspondence also evidences the global scope of Ruskin’s influence. In one letter, Ruskin asks Le Keux if he will pack for him a vignette by J. M. W. Turner for “Dr. Magoon” (Elias Lyman Magoon, 1810-1886, an American clergyman, theological writer and art collector) for whom Ruskin acted as purchasing agent. (John Ruskin letter to John Henry Le Keux, pages 129 and 131). Ruskin’s patronage of young and unknown artists is also clear in Ruskin’s request that Le Keux train a young “workman” from the Working Men’s College in engraving processes. (John Ruskin letter to John Henry Le Keux, pages 101-102.) Ruskin made a similar request on behalf of his future publisher George Allen, whom Le Keux also trained. More quotidian matters are detailed in the correspondence, including attempts between Le Keux and Ruskin to arrange meetings. The letters also reveal the expansion of various printing technologies in the mid-nineteenth century. Ruskin’s letters make reference to other important figures and entities to do with the printing and publication of the later volumes of Modern Painters, including the engraver James Charles Armytage and Ruskin’s publisher, Smith, Elder & Co.
The last two items in the collection are not letters or sketches sent from Ruskin to Le Keux but relate to Henry W. Acland (1815-1900, British physician, educator and Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford) and John Ruskin’s book, The Oxford Museum. Included is a printed proof of the title page of the book which is annotated with suggestions relating to text size, copy and authors. The last item in the collection is a letter from Acland to Ruskin in which Acland outlines a number of alterations and additions to be made to the frontispiece illustration for The Oxford Museum depicting a column capital decorated with British ferns.
Conditions Governing Access
The collection is open without restriction.
Conditions Governing Use
The collection is the physical property of the Yale Center for British Art. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
0.5 Linear Feet (1 volume)
Language of Materials
This collection comprises 53 items, including 42 letters from John Ruskin to John Henry Le Keux, 1 letter from John James Ruskin to John Henry Le Keux, 7 stand-alone sketches related to Le Keux’s engraving work for Ruskin, annotated printed proofs made by Le Keux for Ruskin and 1 letter from Henry W. Acland to John Ruskin which pertains to Le Keux’s work on the frontispiece for Acland and Ruskin’s The Oxford Museum. While the majority of the items are undated, the letters appear to have been authored between 1854 and 1860, with dated items ranging from 1855 to 1860. The items primarily pertain to Le Keux’s engraving work for illustrations for Volumes 3-4 of Modern Painters and for The Oxford Museum
Biographical / Historical
John Ruskin (1819-1919), was an influential British art and architectural critic, social commentator, educator, and artist. Born in London to prosperous, middle-class Scottish parents, Ruskin began drawing lessons at a young age. As a teenager, he made several tours on the European Continent with his parents and he developed a special interest in Italy. After completing his studies at Oxford, Ruskin continued his European travels, including extended stays in Venice where he conducted research for one of his best-known written works, The Stones of Venice. Ruskin was a prominent supporter of the artist J.M.W. Turner and, in the first edition of Modern Painters, he promoted his belief that contemporary British painters exceeded the old masters in the art of landscape by eschewing artistic conventions and looking, instead, to nature. Modern Painters was a major influence on the group known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Pre-Raphaelites radically sought to reform British art through a return to the formal and ideological simplicity of pre-High Renaissance Italian and Netherlandish art, direct observation from nature, the use of luminous colors, and a focus on literary themes. Ruskin’s many publications included The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849), The Elements of Drawing (1857), and Modern Painters (five volumes, 1843-1860). In addition to art and architecture criticism and history, Ruskin’s writings ranged in theme from social issues, education, geology, natural history, and political economy.
The recipient of the letters, John Henry Le Keux (1812-1896), was one member of a well-known family of engravers. Born into a large Huguenot family in London, Le Keux was apprentice to both his father, John Le Keux, an architectural engraver, and the renowned engraver, James Basire. Like his father, John Henry Le Keux was famous for his architectural engravings and his work was featured in many prominent publications including the last three volumes of John Ruskin’s Modern Painters and The Stones of Venice, John Weale’s Studies and Examples of English Architecture and C. H. Hartshorne’s Illustrations of Alnwick, Prudhoe and Warkworth. Le Keux was commissioned by the Norwegian government to produce thirty-one large plates of Trondheim Cathedral. Between 1853 and 1865, Le Keux exhibited a number of architectural drawings at the Royal Academy.
It is unclear how Ruskin and Le Keux met, but it seems that Ruskin approached Le Keux in the early 1850s to commission engravings for the three-volume The Stones of Venice. Le Keux’s father and uncle engraved several works after Turner, which Ruskin greatly admired, and Le Keux arguably became Ruskin’s most trusted engraver. He was tasked with training Ruskin’s students from the Working Men’s College, including George Allen.
- Acland, Henry W. (Henry Wentworth), 1815-1900 -- Correspondence
- Albumen prints
- Drawings (visual works)
- Engravers -- Great Britain
- Engraving -- Great Britain
- Illustration of books
- Le Keux, John Henry, 1812-1896 -- Correspondence
- Lorrain, Claude, 1600-1682
- Ruskin, John, 1819-1900 -- Correspondence
- Ruskin, John, 1819-1900. Modern painters
- Ruskin, John, 1819-1900. Oxford Museum
- Turner, J. M. W. (Joseph Mallord William), 1775-1851
- John Ruskin letters to John Henry Le Keux
- compiled by Victoria Hepburn ; edited by Francis Lapka
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description note
- Finding aid written in English.
Part of the Yale Center for British Art, Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository
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