Richard Parkes Bonington (1802 – 1828)

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Richard Bonington was an English Romantic landscape painter. One of the most influential British artists of his time, the facility of his style was inspired by the old masters, yet was entirely modern in its application.

Richard Parkes Bonington was born in the town of Arnold, a suburb of Nottingham in England. His father was successively a gaoler, a drawing master and lace-maker, and his mother a teacher. Bonington learned watercolour painting from his father and exhibited paintings at the Liverpool Academy at age 11.

In 1817, Bonington’s family moved to Calais, France where his father had set up a lace factory. At this time, Bonington started taking lessons from the painter François Louis Thomas Francia, who trained him in English watercolor painting.

View of the Lagoon Near Venice 1827

In 1818, the family moved to Paris to open a lace retail outlet. It was Paris where he first met Eugène Delacroix, who he became friends with. He worked for a time producing copies of Dutch and Flemish landscapes in the Louvre. In 1820, he started attending the école des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied under Antoine-Jean, Baron Gros.

It was around this time that Bonington started going on sketching tours in the suburbs of Paris and the surrounding countryside. His first paintings were exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1822. He also began to work in lithography, illustrating Baron Taylor’s “Voyages pittoresques dans l’ancienne France” and his own architectural series “Restes et Fragmens”. In 1824, he won a gold medal at the Paris Salon along with John Constable and Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding.

Normandy 1823

Bonington died of tuberculosis on September 28, 1828 at 29 Tottenham Street in London, only 25 years old. There is no finer nor more heartfelt evaluation of Bonington’s work than that which Delacroix wrote in a letter to Théophile Thoré in 1861, and which reads, in part:

When I met him for the first time, I too was very young and was making studies in the Louvre: this was around 1816 or 1817…Already in this genre (watercolor), which was an English novelty at that time, he had an astonishing ability…To my mind, one can find in other modern artists qualities of strength and of precision in rendering that are superior to those in Bonington’s pictures, but no one in this modern school, and perhaps even before, has possessed that lightness of touch which, especially in watercolors, makes his works a type of diamond which flatters and ravishes the eye, independently of any subject and any imitation.

His name was Richard Parkes Bonington. We all loved him. I would sometimes tell him: “You are a king of your domain and Raphael could not do what you do. Don’t worry about other artists’ qualities, nor the proportions of their pictures, since yours are masterworks.”

Franz I and Margaret

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