Artist biography

English painter. In Paris in 1818 Bonington enrolled at the atelier of Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, whose reputation was that of a skilled colourist and a progressive teacher. Bonington mastered the art of drawing à la bosse and, in common with all Gros's pupils, engaged in plein-air sketching. Bonington left Gros's atelier in 1822; the teacher, after having been struck by the brilliant watercolours of his young pupil in a dealer's shop-window, declared: ‘That man is a master.'

From that moment until his death six years later, Bonington was constantly on the move. He travelled the coasts of northern France and also travelled along the Seine, making numerous watercolour studies. A sheet of small watercolour studies shows how in Paris, during the winter months, Bonington supplemented his taste for Troubadour style painting by freely copying Old Masters in the Louvre.

In 1825 Bonington went to London with several French artist friends including Delacroix. Following their return to Paris, Bonington and Delacroix shared a studio for a brief period, producing similar works, which were orientalising or medievalising in style and content.

In 1826 Bonington visited Venice. Bonington was the first to exhibit his oils publicly. Yet these oils appear laboured in comparison with the sparkling spontaneity and versatility of handling of his Italian watercolours.

Bonington's career was suddenly and tragically cut short when he died of consumption at the age of 26. The brevity and brilliance of his working life have encouraged a sentimental appreciation of his work.

Bibliography
A. Cunningham: The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters, Sculptors and Architects, v (London, 1832), pp. 295–311
A. Dubuisson and C. E. Hughes: Richard Parkes Bonington: His Life and Work (London, 1924)
A. Curtis: Catalogue de l'oeuvre lithographié et gravé de R. P. Bonington (Paris, 1939)
R. P. Bonington, 1802–1828 (exh. cat. by M. Spencer, Nottingham, Castle Mus., 1965) [based on author's diss., U. Nottingham, 1963]
Bonington: Un Romantique anglais à Paris (exh. cat. by P. Georgel, Paris, Mus. Jacquemart-André, 1966)
J. Ingamells: Richard Parkes Bonington (London, 1979)
C. Peacock: Richard Parkes Bonington (London, 1979)
M. Pointon: The Bonington Circle: English Watercolour and Anglo-French Landscape, 1790–1855 (Brighton, 1985)
——: Bonington, Francia and Wyld (London, 1985) [cat. rais. of works in the V&A]
——: ‘“Vous êtes roi dans votre domaine”: Bonington as a Painter of Troubadour Subjects', Burl. Mag., cxxviii (1986), pp. 10–17
Richard Parkes Bonington: ‘On the Pleasure of Painting' (exh. cat. by P. Noon, New Haven, CT, Yale Cent. Brit. A.; Paris, Petit Pal.; 1991–2)

MARCIA POINTON

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