Wednesday 24 October 2012



John Ruskin (1819-1900)

Following on from my previous post, I'm returning this month with more gossip regarding the personal affairs of John Ruskin - the celebrated artist, writer and critic whose ardent support for the Pre-Raphaelites helped to establish their good reputation, achieving the fame they so desperately sought.

But the passion expressed for the world of art was not transferred to the marriage bed, even when Ruskin came to wed Effie Gray - the attractive and lively young woman whose charms had inspired several offers of marriage, and led to more than one broken heart.

The couple first met when Effie was a child, their parents being acquainted and often sharing each other's company. Ruskin, who was older, soon became very fond of the little girl, so much so that when he was was twenty-one and Effie only twelve years old, she inspired him to write a fairytale. The King of Golden River was published in 1851 and became a Victorian classic.

John Ruskin as a child

However, there is some evidence that much like his friend Lewis Carroll, Ruskin felt far more at ease in the innocent company of the young, perhaps reliving through imagination his own happy childhood memories.

 Ruskin's portrait of Rose la Touche

Following the annulment of his marriage to the needy and womanly Effie, it was a girl called Rose La Touche who eventually won John Ruskin's heart. They met when she was nine years old, when her family engaged him to tutor the girl - about which Ruskin was to write, " the eventful year of 1858, a lady wrote to me from - somewhere near Green Street, W., - saying, as people sometimes did, in those days, that she saw I was the only sound teacher in Art...that she wanted her children - two boys and a girl - taught the beginnings of Art rightly; especially the younger girl, in whom she thought I might find some power worth developing."

Ruskin and Rose became very close. When not together they often wrote, her letters addressed to St Crumpet. He proposed in 1868, by which time he was almost fifty years old and Rose was just eighteen. But her family were greatly concerned regarding Rose's happiness, so much so that they wrote to Effie (now the respectable wife of Millais) to enquire about what had really occurred surrounding the scandal of her divorce.

Effie's response was to suggest that a marriage to Ruskin should not go ahead and, whether it was this influence or other religious differences, Rose la Touche turned her suitor down.

Rose la Touche on her deathbed by Ruskin

The result was enormous unhappiness. Rose died when twenty-seven years old, by then being placed in a nursing home when her parents feared their daughter mad. The tragedy of her premature death led to Ruskin's great despair, employing spiritualist mediums to try and contact Rose's soul, and then becoming quite convinced that the Renaissance artist, Carpaccio, had included Rose's portrait in his paintings of Saint Ursula. 

Whatever the misery and pain that had been suffered by Effie Gray during her marriage to Ruskin, it would seem that he paid the heaviest price. Effie's revenge was a dish served cold - but a dish of the utmost potency.

Essie Fox new novel, Elijah's Mermaid, is a Victorian psychological drama concerning an artist's doomed affairs, and the tragic results for the women who are chosen to be his muse. 


Sue Purkiss said...

Poor Rose - such a sad story.

Anonymous said...

It's a sad story all around. One wonders if Rose would have fared better married to him, or if she would have been even more unhappy.

Penny Dolan said...

A sad story for poor Rose - and for Ruskin too.

The Effie & Ruskin tragedy is something I've known about like a bit of half-heard history. It always seems such an unhappy mix of natures and knowledge - or not - that I haven't ventured there yet, but with the film "Effie" out next March, maybe it's time to look for more facts before the film takes hold.

Thank you for the reminder, Essie - and good luck with your fascinating novel.

Essie Fox said...

Thank you for the comments. I'm sure I've only touched the surface here, but it is a compelling story which deserves far more exploration. Very much looking forward to Effie (they were filming a scene at the hotel I stayed in in Venice early this year). I also took some Ruskin with me to read, but confess that I still need to start that. Good intentions, but how could I read when I could walk through and look at Venice?

Leslie Wilson said...

I agree. Ruskin should be read, maybe, in Luton?

Your blog has set me wondering all kinds of things, really interesting.

Unknown said...

Umm. No. Ruskin was a predator. Yes, yes.. different era etc etc, but he was a disgusting person.

Natja's Natterings said...

Gosh, this is a bit slanted and ill-informed. Ruskin told many people of his preference for young girls between the ages of 8-16 (but he was willing to accept 17-18). He asked a famous painter of children that he wanted her to send him the picture of a 12 year old with her clothes off because he wanted to see how "round" she was.

And the way he treated Effie Grey was disgusting, it was mentally abusive, if anything Effie wasn't scathing enough.

Pretty sure he groomed Rose DLT and you are actually wrong, her parents relented to their marriage but Rose turned him down.

If people don't think there is something wrong with a 52 year old wanting to marry an 18yr old he has already known for a decade and he was her art tutor I don't know what to think of you all!

Sick, people, sick!