He was the most influential art critic in 19th-century England. Indeed, I would venture to say that he has been the most influential of all time, certainly in the UK.
He was the son of well-off parents, who encouraged his precocious artistic and literary gifts, and he was able to travel all over Europe between 1833 and 1888. He met Turner in 1840, and in 1843 published his first volume of Modern Painters, a work designed to establish Turner's supremacy over all landscape painters. The remaining four volumes, published at intervals up to 1860, were less single-minded and contain a highly personal aesthetic.
His many other books deal with architecture, politics, social reform, mineralogy and other subjects, but his advocacy of Gothic - particularly Venetian Gothic - architecture had results so horrible that he himself bitterly repented it: "there is scarcely a public-house near the Crystal Palace but sells its gin and bitter under pseudo-Venetian capitals copied from the church of the Madonna of Health or of Miracles ... my present house ... is surrounded everywhere by the accursed Frankenstein monsters of, indirectly, my own making.'
His view of art as an expression of morality, his identification of good art with medieval art, his violent diatribes against Palladian architecture, his powerful and timely support of the Pre-Raphaelites, his sensational attack on Whistler leading to the libel suit, his disastrous marriage to Effie Gray in 1848 and its annulment in 1854 (after which she married Millais), as well as his Utopian agricultural schemes and hatred of industrialism - all illustrate his complex and many-sided character. He became very famous, and his involved, contradictory and richly emotional prose gave his art criticism an impact so enduring that not only is he still a folk-memory in the English attitude to the arts, but there has lately been a revival of interest in his theories. He died insane.
He was a meticulous draughtsman, particularly of architecture and plant forms, and there are large collections of his drawings in Oxford (where he was the first Slade Professor) and in Lancaster Univ. Many British and American museums possess examples.
He lived at Coniston in the Lake District for the last 27 years of his life and the Ruskin Museum there is the village's memorial to him.
- Source: The Penguin Dictionary of Art and Artists (Penguin Reference Books)