Ruskin’s principal literary and philosophical focus during his fifty-year-long career centered upon the examination of the moral significance of the function of art and the role of the artist in society. He first expressed that focus at the beginning of his career while at Oxford, when he came most directly under the influence of the artist J. M. W. Turner. Turner’s landscape painting at that time remained virtually unknown to the general public and unappreciated by all who were aware of it except for a small circle of admirers and patrons who recognized his genius. Ruskin was among that circle, young as he was, and had already begun collecting Turner drawings following his meeting with the artist during Ruskin’s third year at Oxford. When Turner’s landscape paintings began to receive hostile commentary because of their impressionistic innovations in such respected London literary journals of the day as the Literary Gazette and the Athenaeum, such attacks provoked the young Ruskin to set the public right about the true genius of his hero and the true nature and function of art. That he did in the first volume of Modern Painters, a work over which he labored for nearly three years before his father, acting on his behalf, submitted it for publication. Appearing under the title Modern Painters: Their Superiority in the Art of Landscape Painting to All the Ancient Masters Proved by Examples of the True, the Beautiful, and...
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