This chapter in Modern Painters on "Truth of Color" is a mini-guide to what landscape painting should be for the important artists of Ruskin's time and place. Ruskin is an astute observer of detail in both painting and the natural world. When he complains of the leaves in Salvator and Poussin's work that "they are noon and morning effects with full lateral light" [156] the reader can imagine this "fake" light in a painting, but not in the real world. The point, succinctly put, is that true color lies in realism and the imitation of nature. Realism might best be understood at this time as "closely resembling objects in the physical and observable world." He believes all painters should use as much light as possible to achieve realism, although nature can never be captured in paint. Turner, Ruskin's chief focus, comes the closest to the truth of nature in his work by using color in a dynamic way to "translate[d] the unattainable intensity of one tone of color, into the attainable pitch of a higher one." [157]


A question then arises regarding Ruskin's methodology, why does color have to be true in this sense in the first place? Given the conclusion of the chapter, that painting is "a visible melody, given to raise and assist the mind in the reception of nobler ideas" (170), his emphasis on truth of color in painting becomes decidedly moral.

1. What role does religion play in his writing? Does it form a theoretical basis for his analysis, or does it just add flavoring phrases such as "sacred clouds... Curtains of God's tabernacle... floor of heaven"?

2. Is looking for "an ideal of color" a _________ (fair, meaningful, worthy, helpful) pursuit? Is it anachronistic to criticize him for holding painting as a falsehood or impossibility, because its ideal can only be found in nature?

3. What is truth according to Ruskin? How does it reflect the social and philosophical context of the time? (Is truth at this point strictly God ?)

4. Is Ruskin a good art historian? What methodological strengths and weaknesses can we observe in his writing?

5. Where does he fit into the history of art history, or, is his defense of Turner revolutionary?

Last modified 14 September 2004

6 May 2019