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.