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Dinah Birch

(b London, Feb 8, 1819; d Brantwood, Cumbria, Jan 20, 1900).

English writer, draughtsman, painter and collector. He was one of the most influential voices in the art world of the 19th century. His early writings, eloquent in their advocation of J(oseph) M(allord) W(illiam) Turner and Pre-Raphaelitism and their enthusiasm for medieval Gothic, had a major impact on contemporary views of painting and architecture. His later and more controversial works focused attention on the relation between art and politics and were bitter in their condemnation of what he saw as the mechanistic materialism of his age.

Ruskin was the only child of prosperous Scottish parents living in London: his father was a wine merchant, his mother a spirited Evangelical devoted to her husband and son. Ruskin had a sequestered but happy childhood. He became an accomplished draughtsman (taught by Copley Fielding and James Duffield Harding) and acquired, through engravings encountered in Samuel Rogers’s poem Italy (1830), an early enthusiasm for Turner’s art. He was also an eager student of natural science, particularly geology. He travelled with his parents, seeing Venice for the first time in ...