Introduction: Ways of Seeing

  • Ruth Robbins
Part of the Transitions book series (TRANSs)


In a very famous moment in the history of art, the Victorian critic, John Ruskin (1819–1900), arbiter of public taste and commentator on the morality of art, visited the Grosvenor Gallery in London in the summer of 1877. Amongst the exhibits he saw there were paintings by British-born artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833–98) and the American James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903). Burne-Jones, who had begun his career as a Pre-Raphaelite painter, depicting mythic and medieval subjects with an almost photographic realism in technique, was unsurprisingly highly praised by Ruskin for his eight exhibits at the Grosvenor. From the beginning of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in the late 1840s, Ruskin had championed the cause and had been one of key formers of a public taste that eventually learned to love what had earlier been disapprovingly called ‘the fleshly school’ of painting and poetry on account of its sensuous treatment of sensuous subject matter. The Pre-Raphaelite virtue in Ruskin’s eyes was that the painters painted in ways which were intensely realistic and produced highly worked canvases that were testament to their craft as well as their art. Because of this realism of technique, the message of a given painting was immediately and obviously legible, and this was for Ruskin the point of a work of art.


Clear Vision Moral Message Realist Fiction Brown Flesh Adventure Story 
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  1. 2.
    To follow this up, see Miriam Allott, ed., Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights: A Casebook. Revised Edition. Basingtoke: Macmillan, 1992.Google Scholar

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© Ruth Robbins 2003

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  • Ruth Robbins

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