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John Ruskin: Letters to Thomas Goff Lupton

Call Number: MSS 5
Scope and Contents

The collection comprises one letter from Benjamin Haydon and sixty-five letters from John Ruskin to Thomas Lupton and/or his son Nevil. Haydon's letter is a brief one in an angry tone, and seems to be related to some sort of professional falling out with Lupton. The scope of Ruskin's letters is far wider, and spans the professional and the personal. For the most part, John Ruskin appears to have been in close communication with Lupton about the engraving and printing of images for his books during the 1850s. In particular, the two men's connection to J.M.W. Turner, who had died in 1851, prompted their collaboration on works that sought to bring Turner's landscapes and other art into print. In addition to The Harbours of England, which featured Turner's engravings accompanied by an introductory essay by Ruskin, the correspondence covers such works as the third through final volumes of Ruskin's Modern Painters. Lupton, along with other engravers, was responsible for helping Ruskin to create many of the illustrations for these publications. It seems that Ruskin's commitment to Turner's legacy drove his rather furious pace of work and publications in the 1850s, the decade during which his personal life was most in turmoil. He remarks, in a New Year's message to Lupton in 1855, that he hopes the year will be a good one and that, "God willing--we will make it a busy one."

Ruskin's letters to Lupton reveal a very close working relationship, with both men working on plates at different stages, and sending plates and proofs back and forth to one another. Ruskin is anxious for perfection throughout, and frequently chides Lupton for delays or for departures from his instructions, despite the engraver's experience and well-established reputation at this time. Many of the letters relate specific directions about the handling of plates, and seem to have originally accompanied the plates themselves, carried to Lupton by one of Ruskin's servants. Ruskin's letters often express frustration with the other engravers involved in his projects, and he bemoans his difficult interactions with them to Lupton.

While the bulk of the correspondence dates from the 1850s, the years in which Ruskin and Lupton were most actively working together, it carries on throughout the 1860s and 1870s, until Lupton's death in 1873. Although Ruskin can be harsh, demanding, and impatient with Lupton in his professional correspondence, he seems able to offer genuinely friendly concern and communication at other times. For instance, Ruskin offers Lupton a moving letter of sympathy upon the death of the engraver's wife, Susannah, in 1864. Another letter of condolence, written to Lupton's son after Lupton died in 1873 (and in another person's handwriting), expresses the deep respect and affection that Ruskin held for his collaborator and friend. When Ruskin is in poor health (he suffered mental and physical illness especially during the 1860s and 1870s), he is relatively honest about his condition, informing Lupton of the reasons for gaps in his correspondence when he chooses to retire from work and communication in order to rest from time to time.

In addition to the correspondence with Thomas Goff Lupton, Ruskin writes a couple of letters to Lupton's son Nevil, who seems to have assisted his father both in the physical labor of his engravings and in the management of his business. Ruskin is respectful and kind in his messages to Nevil, and acknowledges his contributions.

Overall, the Lupton correspondence offers insight into the working relationship and friendship forged between John Ruskin and Thomas Lupton over two decades, during some of the most productive years of Ruskin's life and at a time when both men were contributing their skills to securing J.M.W. Turner's legacy, even as their own legacies were still being created. It illuminates the lengthy and painstaking process of creating each of the illustrations on which Lupton and Ruskin worked, and sheds light on Ruskin's professional style--impatient, industrious, efficient, and exacting.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

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

Paul Mellon Collection.


The collection is arranged into two series: I. Dated letters. II. Undated letters. The second series contains letters whose date could not be approximated to closer than one or two years. The single letter to Lupton from Benjamin Robert Haydon is the first item in series one.

0.42 Linear Feet (1 box)
Related Names
Ruskin, John, 1819-1900
Haydon, Benjamin Robert, 1786-1846
Language of Materials