Ruskin Unpossessed

Ruskin Unpossessed

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

5:30 PM–7:00 PM
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In this Research and Academic Program lecture, Jeremy Melius (University of Oxford / Michael Ann Holly Fellow) explores the aesthetic and ethical parameters of John Ruskin’s watercolor practice. As in Ruskin's acts of verbal description, the Victorian critic’s pictures staged distinctive modes of attention for his audiences by modeling ways of closely observing visual phenomena and internalizing their significance. His drawings brought the world onto the two-dimensional sheet, and they also refused to pin that world down, proposing that the act of depiction remain open, mobile, and never fully complete. This lecture ranges over the sheer variety of Ruskin's visual work—from nature studies to architectural fancies to copies after pictures of the past. Melius focuses on Ruskin’s special engagement with his medium, and its ability to suggest things his words could never articulate. Like the best of Ruskin's writings, in their own way, his drawings constituted an art of un-possession with real consequences for the understanding of his thought.

Jeremy Melius is a historian of modern art and art writing, who has published widely on figures such as Walter Pater, Pablo Picasso, and Lee Bontecou, and on topics such as the history of connoisseurship, the afterlife of Botticelli, and the relation between photography and sculpture. His work is often framed by the complex entanglements of word and image, and their consequences for the treatment of visual art as historical evidence. Most recently Melius was a visiting scholar at Corpus Christi College at the University of Oxford in England (2021–22). At the Clark, he is developing a project on the Victorian critic John Ruskin and his fraught relationship with the practice of art history.


Presented in person in the Clark auditorium. This event is free with a reception in the Manton Research Center Reading Room starting at 5 pm. A recorded video of this lecture will be released on the Clark's Youtube channel on December 13.

Image: John Ruskin, At Interlaken, Switzerland (detail) © The Trustees of the British Museum