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'An intense consciousness of the present': Ruskin, Pater and the drawing of...

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Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

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WC1B 3JA

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Research Lunch by Thomas Hughes

(PhD Candidate, The Courtauld Insititue of Art)

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’.

Image credit: James Tissot, Holyday, c. 1876, Oil on canvas © Tate, London


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Paul Mellon Centre

16 Bedford Square

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WC1B 3JA

United Kingdom

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