The Beginnings of Art History at Harvard, Part 2: Charles Herbert Moore, John Ruskin, and the Teaching of Drawing

By Marjorie B. Cohn
June 6, 2024
Index Magazine

The Beginnings of Art History at Harvard, Part 2: Charles Herbert Moore, John Ruskin, and the Teaching of Drawing

This ornamental line drawing in red suggests the shape of a flower, with the petals inscribed in a circular outline. A few lines of handwriting are at the bottom of the paper.
Charles Herbert Moore, American, after John Ruskin, British, Diagram of Saxifrage, after Ruskin, 1876. Watercolor over graphite on off-white wove paper. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Fine Arts Department, Harvard University, 1926.33.68.

In this second of two articles about the foundation of art history as a discipline at Harvard, Marjorie B. Cohn explores how John Ruskin taught an early instructor in the Fine Arts Department, Charles Herbert Moore, to master the practice of copying and drawing.

(Read Part 1 here.)

In January 1870, Charles Eliot Norton, who would soon become a professor in the newly established Department of Fine Arts at Harvard, wrote a letter to Pre-Raphaelite painter Charles Herbert Moore, whose artistic practice could no longer support him and his family:

I agree with you in the conviction that there is little to be hoped for art in America unless that standard of taste is raised by solid education. . . . If you care to see President [Charles William] Eliot . . . [I will] let him know you are introduced by me.[1]

Eliot was not only Harvard University’s president, he was also Norton’s cousin. Trained as a chemist, Eliot was the primary professor in Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School. Charles H. Moore was listed as that school’s “instructor in free-hand drawing” for the academic year 1871–72.[2] Two years later, Moore reported that “President Eliot takes a very kind interest in my work. . . . I have not . . . had any very systematic plan of instruction, but have followed Mr. Ruskin’s teaching as far as I could.”[3]

The Department of Fine Arts first appears in the 1875–76 Harvard University Catalogue, with Moore, not Norton, teaching the first course, titled Fine Arts 1: Principles of Design in Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. Examples in Illumination, Landscape and Figure Painting; and in Pottery, Carving, Etc.

Evidently, Norton had insisted to Eliot that Moore’s course in drawing would be as essential to undergraduates, who must have been naïve about analysis of visual images, as it was to budding scientists who needed to sketch specimens. Fine Arts 1 was followed in the catalogue by Norton’s two lecture courses: The History of the Fine Arts of Construction, and Their Relations to Literature; and The Rise and Fall of the Arts in Athens and in Venice. Readings in German. Ruskin, Stones of Venice.[4]

Despite the initial efforts of Moore, Norton, and Eliot, Ruskin was disappointed by the drawing instruction at Harvard. In 1875, he received from Moore a parcel of his drawings and reported back to Norton: “[T]hey are full of admirable purpose and have many fine qualities. But Mr Moore has no perception yet, of light and shade . . . which makes me anxious that Mr Moore should now quickly see the beginning of our Oxford series. . . . His chief failure is in the ornamental work—he does not know noble from ignoble grotesque.”[5] It was quickly decided to send Moore to Europe to study under the master. He caught up with Ruskin in August 1876, who reported back to Norton: “I was, of course, delighted with Mr. Moore . . . increased by feeling that I was able to show him things which he felt to be useful.” An October letter, after the two men had spent days copying the same painting, suggests a more personal reason for Ruskin’s sentiments: “I am very much delighted at having Mr. Moore for a companion. . . . His voice continually reminds me of yours.”[6] Yet this was not the only reason for Ruskin’s emotion.

The painting that the two men were copying in the Accademia in Venice, Carpaccio’s The Dream of St. Ursula, had psychological importance for Ruskin. By his later admission, he had an unhealthy fascination with young female saints, and the heroine in Carpaccio’s painting recalled for him a young woman he had been obsessed with: Rose LaTouche, 29 years his junior, who had died at a young age. In Norton’s words, “[T]he death of Miss [Rose] LaTouche, the woman to whom Ruskin’s heart had for many years been devoted, closed for him a period . . . which had kept him in a constant state of restless and exhausting emotion.”[7] LaTouche was 10 years old in 1858 when Ruskin, about to celebrate his 39th birthday, first met her. His infatuation led him to propose marriage when she turned 18; her parents insisted that she wait three years before giving an answer. The waiting period stretched until her death in 1875. By 1878, Ruskin began to have periodic lapses into insanity, and as he wrote to “Darlingest Charles” that year, “Mere overwork or worry might have soon ended me, but it would not have driven me crazy. I went crazy about St. Ursula and the other saints,—chiefly young-lady saints.”[8] Eventually, he admitted implicitly that his fixation on Carpaccio’s heroine was a transference of his love for Rose LaTouche. He wrote to Norton in 1881, “And, the fact is, these illnesses of mine [have been] from overexcitement in particular directions of work . . . the first time, it was a piece of long thought about St. Ursula; and this year it was brought on by . . . my own evening thoughts . . . if I couldn’t get Rosie’s ghost at least alive by me, if not the body of her.”[9]

In 1876, Ruskin had been positive in his estimate of Moore’s at-scale copy of the head of St. Ursula. Moore enthusiastically reported to Norton that Ruskin said it was “coming on beautifully.”[10]

Once back at Harvard, Moore arranged an exhibition of Italian Renaissance and modern works in 1878. In the introduction to the accompanying checklist, he wrote, “The [included] paintings and drawings . . . are the beginning of a series . . . in illustration of a scheme of instruction derived from the principles and methods of the classic schools.” As a Pre-Raphaelite, he specified that those principles and methods “have been singularly lost sight of since the rise of the Academic Schools in Italy, at the close of the 16th Century.”[11] He itemized 85 drawings, prints, copies, and photographs of Italian Renaissance art and modern works by Turner and Ruskin. There were several drawings by Edward Burne-Jones, doubtless on loan from Norton, a friend of the British Pre-Raphaelite artist.

Moore’s Carpaccio copy was also featured in the display. His commentary asserted, “There is no more exemplary piece of painting in Venice than this head in the original. See the old engraving, No. 62, for the complete design.”[12] The prints turned over to the Fogg Museum by the Fine Arts Department include no reproductive engraving of The Dream of St. Ursula, but the bequest by Susan Norton does. The “old engraving” is a late 18th-century etching and aquatint by Giovanni Maria de Pian that must have been owned by Norton.[13]

Moore’s praise of Carpaccio’s head as “exemplary” only echoed what he had already said in his earlier letter to Norton: “I have tried hard to make it faithful that our students may see what Venitian [sic] expression and color are at their best, or at least in their most exemplary form,” emphasizing his commitment (and by implication Norton’s, as well) to the still novel project of integrating art history into the curriculum.[14] The following spring, Moore looked ahead and prompted Norton to think of building a home for the new department and its collection, with a Venetian prototype in mind: “As for a place for our collections: I think that if we had a well considered plan . . . it might be possible to get money enough after a while. The Refectory of the Convent of St. Mark struck me the other day as a very suitable model . . . a long, well proportioned room . . . and a good lecture room adjoining.” Moore concluded with his appraisal of his and Norton’s prospects at Harvard: “I am sure we can create a school which will command respect from intelligent and unsophisticated persons.”[15] The “unsophisticated persons” were American students, able to understand the value of art without preconceptions. In 1870, Norton had warned Ruskin about British students: “You are to address one of the most hypercritical of audiences; an audience with undeveloped or atrophied hearts.”[16]

Several years would pass before there was enough money for a Harvard museum with a lecture room.[17] In 1891, Elizabeth Fogg bequeathed $220,000 to Harvard in memory of her husband. Moore was appointed the first director of the William Hayes Fogg Art Museum and served until 1909, a year after Norton’s death and the year a Charles Eliot Norton memorial exhibition opened at the Fogg. In implicit homage to the generative friendship between Norton and Ruskin, the exhibition consisted entirely of drawings and watercolors by Ruskin, many from Norton’s own collection. In the introduction to the catalogue, Arthur Pope, who had succeeded Moore in the department, wrote, “Altogether the exhibition gives a surprisingly comprehensive view . . . of this brilliant and erratic artist-writer. Most of his drawings are evidently the work of a man who had other things on his mind.”[18]

Moore was succeeded as director of the Fogg Museum in 1909 by “his young protégé, Edward Waldo Forbes.”[19] Forbes served in that office, assisted by Paul Sachs, until they retired together in 1944. Both men were graduates of Harvard, and Forbes had been Charles Eliot Norton’s student. Forbes and Sachs were personal and institutional collectors of works of art and together they raised enough money to build an expanded Fogg Museum in 1927.[20] They named the Fogg’s largest lecture hall after Norton. A marble bust of Norton—commissioned and donated by James Loeb, an art collector and another former student of Norton’s—stood in a classical aedicule at the door.[21]

Marjorie B. Cohn is the Carl A. Weyerhaeuser Curator of Prints, Emerita, at the Harvard Art Museums.


[1] Quoted in Marjorie B. Cohn. “Turner • Ruskin • Norton • Winthrop,” Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums, 1993), 28, from a letter in Harvard University Archives. Even late in their careers, Norton supported Moore in the most tangible way, as indicated by his letter of April 22, 1898 to President Eliot: “I thank you for informing me of the actions of the Corporation in transferring $750. of my salary to Mr. Moore. This arrangement is entirely satisfactory to me.” Quoted in Cohn, “Turner • Ruskin • Norton • Winthrop,” 28, from a letter in Harvard’s Houghton Library autograph file.

[2] The Lawrence Scientific School also had a lecturer who taught surveying and drawing.

[3] Quoted in Cohn. “Turner • Ruskin • Norton • Winthrop,” 28, from a letter of February 6, 1873. In this letter to Norton, who was in Italy at the time, Moore also reported that Eliot hoped “our present acquisitions ‘are the beginning of a considerable collection for teaching purposes.’”

[4] Harvard University Catalogue for the Years 1875–76 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University, 1875), 64, 65.

[5] John Lewis Bradley and Ian Ousby, eds., The Correspondence of John Ruskin and Charles Eliot Norton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 370–71, letter of November 10, 1875.

[6] Ibid., 384, letter of August 2, 1876; and 387, letter of October 5, 1876.

[7] John Ruskin, Letters of John Ruskin to Charles Eliot Norton, ed. Charles Eliot Norton, Vol. 2 (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1904), 116.

[8] Bradley and Ousby, Correspondence, 412, letter of July 23, 1878.

[9] Ibid., 444, letter of April 26, 1881.

[10] Charles Herbert Moore to Charles Eliot Norton, 8 October 1876, Charles Eliot Norton papers, Houghton Library, MS AM1088, box 26, folder 4772.

[11] Charles H. Moore, Catalogue, with Notes, of Studies and fac-similes from Examples of the Works of Florence and Venice; and of Fac-similes and Original Studies to Be Used as Exercises in Drawing, Belonging to the Fine Arts Department of Harvard University. Exhibited by the Harvard Art Club, 2 Thayer Hall, Cambridge, Mass., December 1878 (Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1878), [3].

[12] Ibid., 11–12.

[13] The Dream of St. Ursula is one of three plates in the Susan Norton bequest from De Pian’s nine-print series Scenes from the Life of St. Ursula (accession numbers M21225, M21226, and M21227). 

[14] Charles Herbert Moore to Charles Eliot Norton, 8 October 1876, Charles Eliot Norton papers, Houghton Library, MS AM1088, box 26, folder 4772.

[15] Charles Herbert Moore to Charles Eliot Norton, 20 May 1877, Charles Eliot Norton papers, Houghton Library, MS AM1088, box 26, folder 4777.

[16] Bradley and Ousby, Correspondence, 185, letter of January 23, 1870.

[17] Mr. and Mrs. Fogg had no known connection with Harvard. It is supposed that her lawyer, William Mackay Prichard, Harvard Class of 1833, suggested the art museum, to which he endowed an acquisition fund.

[18] Arthur Pope, Catalogue of Ruskin Exhibition in Memory of Charles Eliot Norton (Cambridge, Mass.: Fogg Art Museum, 1909–1910), [1].

[19] David B. Elliott, Charles Fairfax Murray: The Unknown Pre-Raphaelite (Lewes, Sussex; New Castle, Del.: Book Guild; Oak Knoll Press, 2000), 121.

[20] Forbes was Class of 1895. He donated Turner’s watercolor Ehrenbreitstein to the Fogg Museum in 1904. Sachs was Class of 1900.

[21] Loeb was Class of 1888. The accession number of the bust, by Victor David Brenner, is 1907.3. Loeb’s collection of antiquities, originally intended for Harvard, ended up in the Staatliche Antikensammlungen in Munich; Loeb had been a resident of Germany for many years until his death in 1933. An article by Amy Brauer and Susanne Ebbinghaus makes clear Norton’s immense influence on the study and collecting of classical art: “Charles Eliot Norton and His Disciples: Building Harvard’s Ancient Art Collection,” in Proceedings of the Second Biennial James Loeb Conference, ed. Jeffrey Henderson and Richard Thomas, 123–84 (Cambridge, Mass.: Department of the Classics, Harvard University, 2022).