The present drawing was executed during Ruskin's visit to Switzerland with his parents between May and October 1854. Although only a fortnight after Effie had finally left Ruskin, he decided to continue with his plans for spending the summer on the continent in the company of his parents. This summer on the continent was happy and productive because of the absence of Ruskin's 'commonplace Scotch wife', as he now called her: with Effie gone he could joyously return to Modern Painters. The Ruskins left from Calais, journeying through Amiens and Chartres to Geneva and spending three months in Switzerland. During this familiar trip Ruskin was able to recommence his work on Modern Painters by revisiting the country in which he had first found his inspiration. He had not studied nature in this way since 1849, as T. Hilton states in his biography John Ruskin: The Early Years, Bath, 2000, p. 200. 'Ruskin's work in the summer of 1854 was glorious, as we may find in every chapter of the third and fourth volumes of Modern Painters that issue from his meditations in the Alps.'
In their great Library Edition of Ruskin's works (1903-12), E.T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn quoted Douglas Freshfield, a former President of the Alpine Club, on the subject of Ruskin's deep appreciation of the Alps. According to Freshfield, Ruskin 'saw and understood mountains, and taught our generation to understand them in a way no one ... had ever understood them before. ... this appreciation of detail in no way interfered with Ruskin's romantic delight in the whole, in the sentiment and spirit of mountain landscapes. In some minds mountains take the place of cathedrals as a source of an emotion that may be called -- in the wide sense of the word -- religious. Ruskin was so happily constituted that he drew equal delight and inspiration both from architecture and scenery. No writer has added so much to our enjoyment of Alpine scenery as Ruskin'.
If Ruskin taught others to love the Alps, it was only because they were so central to his own aesthetic and moral value system. 'To the end of his days', Tim Hilton has written, he 'never ceased to study the Alps and to associate them with the broad principles of his teaching, even his political economy.' He saw them for the first time in 1833, when he was fourteen, during the earliest of the many foreign tours that he was to make as a boy and young man with his parents. The experience was repeated in 1835, 1842 and 1844. Ruskin was back in Switzerland in 1845, returning from a highly formative tour in Italy via the St Gothard Pass, and again in 1846; but it was not until 1849 that he made the intense study of Alpine scenery that finds such vivid expression in the third volume of Modern Painters. Many a jotting in his notebooks was worked up into more formal prose, including some of the book's most famous purple passages, while the plates are often based on his Alpine sketches.
The present drawing has a spontaneity and vigour that clearly shows the renewed enthusiasm and joyful response of Ruskin to the mountain scenery.