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The Myth of Ruskin's Bonfire

It's one of those art history stories that was constantly retold: John Ruskin, executor of the estate of the painter Turner, in a fit of Victorian prudishness, burned paintings and sketches that he deemed indecent. According to Ruskin himself, it actually happened in 1858. Well, Maev Kennedy reports in an article (Bonfire of Turner's erotic vanities never took place, December 29) for The Guardian that it never happened:

Ian Warrell, Turner expert at the Tate, has been poring over thousands of Turner drawings and paintings, matching the survivors with the Victorian inventories and records. He is now convinced there was no bonfire, despite Ruskin's claim that he burned a mass of works of art, sparing only a bundle wrapped in brown paper and neatly labelled "kept as evidence of a failure of mind only". It looks as if the notoriously prudish Ruskin, who worshipped Turner to the point of idolatry, could not bring himself to destroy his work. Instead he buried them in paper, interring them in a tortuous numbering system he devised himself, or in the case of some detailed anatomical details of women's genitals, folding over the page to conceal them, undoubtedly with a shudder of revulsion. Mr Warrell has now peered at 30,000 sheets of paper. He is sure that the bonfire never happened. Almost all the allegedly missing drawings appear to be safely in the Tate collection.
You can also take a look at a not unrelated exhibit, Ruskin, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites (2000), at the Tate; Ruskin on Turner, an essay from Art-Bin with links to Ruskin's writings; and John Ruskin: An Overview, a great resource from The Victorian Web.

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