Leon Florentin Joseph Bonnat (1833-1922)

The First Mourning

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Leon Florentin Joseph Bonnat was a French painter, whose subjects included historical subjects, portraits, and Orientalism. He received his formative training in Spain, and studied in Madrid from 1846, to 1853 under the painter Frederico Madrazo. Frederico Madrazo was a great Spanish portrait painter, as well as the Director of the Museum in the Prado for several decades. The result of this training was that his first paintings were strongly influenced by Spanish artists. The long series of portraits that he produced were particularly influenced by Velazquez, and the Spanish realists.

He returned to France due to the death of his Father and in 1854, he entered the studio of Leon Coignet. He also studied under the great Orientalist painter Eugene Delacroix. He then spent three years in Italy from 1856 to 1861, where he studied at the French Academy with the likes of Degas, Gustave Moreau, and Jules Lefebvre. After his return from Italy, he produced a number of Italian genre scenes.


In 1868, he made a trip to the Orient, with a party that was headed by the Orientalist Jean Leon Gerome. The party included the painter Paul Lenoir, and the writer, Edmond About. The trip took them to Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, and parts of Turkey, and Greece. In 1869, they witnessed the opening of the Suez Canal. Although Bonnat was best known as a portraitist, his Oriental works make up a significant part of his work. One of the first Oriental paintings which he exhibited at the Salon, is entitled, “An Egyptian Peasant Woman, and her child.” This painting now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and was based on a sketch which he made at the opening of the Suez Canal.

An Egyptian Peasant Woman with her Child

His career was not only lucrative, but also very prestigious. He became a member of the Institute of France, and was appointed the President of the Societe des Artistes Français in 1881. He became a Knight of the Legion of Honor in 1882, and was appointed the Director of the Ecole des Beaux Arts in 1905. He was also the teacher of Henri Toulouse- Lautrec, and George Braque.

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