Whistler versus Ruskin

Whistler versus Ruskin. Edward Linley Sambourne (1844-1910). Punch (7 December 1878): 254. Source: The Hathi Trust Digital Library’s online version of a copy in the Harvard University Library. Click on image to enlarge it.

An Appeal to the Law.

Naughty Critic to use bad Language! Silly Painter, to go to Law about it!

Sambourne caricatures Whistler with two penny whistles for legs and Ruskin as a bird bearing the label “Old Pelican in the Art Wilderness” as the judge awards Whistler about the smallest possible amount of money for his pyrrhic victory, telling him “The law allows it the court awards it.” A two-headed serpent labelled “costs” appears poised to snap at both parties. The Whistler-Ruskin trial appears particularly sad on multiple counts: Wilde, a nasty character who was always suing someone, sued Ruskin, who was suffering a mental breakdown. Unaware of the irony, he had scurrilously attacked Whistler with the same kind of invective that had led him to defend first his idol Turner and then the Pre-Raphaelites. Whistler’s situation produced bitter irony, too: Whistler, who denied that Ruskin knew anything about art, refused to admit that his many nights in boats on the Thames drawing London and the river exactly followed both Ruskin’s own grounds for defending Turner and his advice to young artists. Whistler had in fact followed a Ruskinian apprenticeship to nature.

Related Material Including Other Caricatures of John Ruskin

Related material: Looking at Works of Art

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Last modified 13 May 2020