His friend Eugène Delacroix wrote that his works were “a type of diamond which flatters and ravishes the eye, independently of any subject and any imitation.” Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot recognized him as the first truly naturalistic landscape painter to work in France, where his subtle approach to color and atmosphere deeply influenced the later Barbizon painters. So why is it that you’ve probably never heard of Richard Parkes Bonington?
Richard Parkes Bonington (1802–1828) was an English Romantic painter who spent his tragically brief working career in France, where he received formal art training in the Paris studio of Baron Antoine-Jean Gros. However, it was Bonington’s familiarity and great skill with the distinctly English art of watercolor landscape that immediately distinguished his workfrom his fellow artists in Paris. The frank realism of Bonington’s landscapes, combined with his lightness and delicacy of tone in both watercolor and oil painting were unlike anything his French contemporaries had seen before. A chance encounter with a small Bonington landscape in a Paris gallery window caused Corot to dedicate his painting career to the natural landscape, later writing that “No one thought of landscape painting in those days…the artist had captured for the first time the effects that had always touched me when I discovered them in nature and that were rarely painted. I was astonished.”
After an exhausting series of painting trips through northern France and northern Italy, where he completed dozens of oil and watercolor paintings, Bonington contracted tuberculosis, and died of the disease just before his 26th birthday. Although Bonington was widely recognized in both England and France in the early 19th century, his fame waned and his work became known mostly to connoisseurs of early Romantic painting. Luckily for Yale’s Center for British Art, one of those connoisseurs was Paul Mellon, who collected Bonington’s work, and Mellon’s donations to the Center comprise the largest collection of Bonington paintings in North America. In these videos Angus Trumble, Senior Curator of Paintings and Sculpture at the Center, celebrates the life and works of a painter who might have been regarded as the equal of Constable and Turner, if he had enjoyed a longer working career.