In the Illustrated Catalogue of the Permanent Collection of Pictures Drawings and Sculpture with Biographical Notes of Painters and Sculptors, of the City of Nottingham Museum and Art Gallery, Nottingham Castle, compiled by G. H. Wallis, F.S.A., Art Director and Curator of the Museum and Art Gallery, the portrait of Richard Parkes Bonington, painted by himself, appears as the frontispiece to the catalogue. He there appears as a tall intelligent youth of say sixteen years of age, having his hair profuse and long, with coat buttoned up to the chin, and face expressing great thoughtfulness. This portrait Mr. Wallis acquired from Paris some years ago. It is a half length figure with hands crossed, and holding a paint brush in the right hand.

There are in the art gallery two pictures, both of which are signed R. P. Bonington, being a "View of the Piazza, of St. Mark's Venice and the Campanile," and a "Scene on the Coast of Normandy," both of which are illustrated in the catalogne. There is also a picture painted by R. P. Bonington when he was about thirteen years of age, and shortly before he left Nottingham with his parents for Paris. This is a view of Nottingham Castle looking east from the river Leen. His father has also in the Castle Museum a picture of "Nottingham Castle from the Meadows," painted about 1820. It is stated that the father exhibited two works in the Royal Academy between 1797 and 1808, and the son four pictures in 1827 and 1828. "The transept of the abbey of St. Bertin, St. Omer, France," is one of the most important examples of Richard Parkes Bonington's art, and is in the Nottingham Art Museum collection. It is probably one of the last pictures he painted, being sold at the sale of the artist's effects in 1829.

In the Studio for November, 1904, is an article written by Henri Frantz, on the art of R. P. Bonington, in which he says—"This youthful genius endowed with an inspiration as pure as it was spontaneous had no time to lose his inborn characteristics, or to feel the evil influence of the caprice of fashion and the temptations of success. For genuine originality his work stands unrivalled. . . . His every production has the charm which those alone can give whom the Muses love, and therefore condemn to early death. . . . From his childhood young Bonington shewed an unusual aptitude for painting, and was always sketching in the green English Country, trees, houses, barges—anything which attracted his attention. In 1816 his father set up a house in Paris, in the Rue de Tournelle, where he established a business in connection with the lace trade of Nottingham.

After his preliminary education among English country scenes, after having already begun to fall under the spell of the sea during a short stay at Calais, young Bonington went to seek counsel from the old Masters of the Louvre."

M. Andre" Dezarrois in an article in "La Renaissance Romantique," on Bonington, quotes Baron Gros, the Master of l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts, as follows: "One day complaining to his pupils that they neglected too much the colour, poetry, and life of painting, he said to them— 'During my walks I see in the windows of dealers certain water-colours and pictures gleaming with light. Go and see them and study them. They are signed Badington, Boudington, I do not know the exact name. In any case, gentlemen, this man is a Master!' During this speech the worthy Bonington lowered his head, blushing in the midst of his comrades, not daring to say a word."

About 1822 he went to Italy, with what success his pictures shew.

In 1828 the flow of patronage was great, and exposing himself too unguardedly to the heat of the sun while sketching in the open air, he brought on brain fever, and a severe illness, terminating in a rapid consumption, followed. He died in London on September 23rd, 1828, and was buried at St. James' Church, Pentonville. His remains were taken thence, by faculty, in June, 1837, and were interred in Kensal Green cemetery, his mother being buried on the same day.

His friend Delacroix says of him—"His was a great and noble nature. His character was rendered complex by a touch of melancholy."

Reference is made to the "Coast Scene" in the Nottingham Art Gallery, and to pictures in the Robinson Collection and the Tate Gallery. The "Henri III." of the Wallace collection (bought in 1860 for 49,000 francs) is another masterpiece.

"Wonderful, indeed, is the devouring activity of this young artist, who in seven years produced so great a number of perfect works in such different styles." His two most famous pictures are "The Great Clock Tower" at Evreux, and "The Street of the Clock Tower at Rouen."

"Bonington I consider," says Delacroix, "shares with Turner the title of being the most luminous colourist of the English nineteenth century school."

In the Wallace collection there are thirty-five of his works in oil or water colours. Referring to the water colours, Mr. Blagg kindly calls my attention to the observations made in "A Wanderer in London," by E. V. Lucas, from which the following is an extract:—"For the water colours you seek Rooms XXI and XXII, notable above all for their examples of Richard Parkes Bonington, that great and sensitive colourist, who, like Keats, had done his work and was dead before ordinary men have made up their minds as to what they will attempt. In two or three of these tiny drawings Bonington is at his best—particularly in No. 700. "Fishing Boats;" No. 714. "The Church of Sant' Ambrogio, Milan," and, above all, No. 708. "Sunset in the Pays de Caux" which might be placed beside Turner's greatest effects of light and lose nothing, although it is only seven and a half inches by ten."

There is a portrait of R. P. Bonington, engraved in mezzotint, by J. P. Quilby, after Margaret Carpenter, and published in 1831.

Mr. Watson Fothergill has an oil painting by Bonington, the subject of which is "Francis the 1st and Marguerite de Navarre." This he regards as a gem.

Two pictures of Bonington's were sold in the Novar Collection on the 6th April, 1878, viz.:—"The Fishmarket, Boulogne," and the "Grand Canal, Venice," for 3,000 guineas each.

"The genius of Bonington," says the writer of the Memoir, "was of the highest order of originality and flexibility . . . His forte was dramatic painting, and delineation of actual objects of nature, and we have only to compare his figure compositions, with his coast views, to confirm our opinion. His works in the latter style are wonderfully fine—so entirely original and masterly, and his sketches in water colours are really and truly ' gems of art.' He has founded a style, the great characteristics of which are a fine perception of the beauties of both nature and art."

"Not many years before his death he undertook a journey to visit the place of his birth and Nottingham." "In his last illness he was fond of referring to the scenes of his youth, and expressed a strong desire of once more seeing the old houses which he used to sketch when a boy."

"The personal appearance of Bonington was singular and striking; bespeaking the man of genius most strongly. His figure was finely proportioned, in height about five feet eleven, his eyes dark and penetrating were overshadowed by brows thick and reflecting; the forehead square and lofty; the nose long, and of the Grecian mould, and the mouth evidence of mildness and resolution, the general expression of his countenance was thoughtfulness approaching to melancholy. His disposition was mild, generous and highly affectionate ; and in every part was the exact counterpart of his mother whom he loved most tenderly."

It is said that he was deeply affected by the death of a young lady beautiful and accomplished—a Miss Foster, the daughter of an English clergyman residing at Paris, whose decease occurred not very long before his own.

Indeed his feelings were of the most acute sensibility, and not of a nature soon to forget a bereavement of that kind. I began by reference to the absence of any statue, or mark of appreciation of the work and character of Bonington, in the village of his birth, or the city of his early life ; I end by making the very pleasant announcement that an admirer of Bonington is about to supply the lack, and I am informed has given a commission to a competent London artist to execute a statue of Bonington in Carrara marble, which it is hoped will be set up in Nottingham during the forthcoming year. More than this I am not authorised to say.

After Mr. Mellors had read his paper, Mr. G. H. Wallis spoke as follows.


All those interested in Richard Parkes Bonington will thank Mr. Mellors for the information he has brought together with regard to the Boningtons and their connection with Nottingham, but the most important result of Mr. Mellors' research is the discovery in the register of Richard Parkes Bonington's baptism at the High Pavement Chapel, and that he was born in 1802 and not 1801, as has been generally accepted and also recorded by Allan Cunningham, his English biographer.

Mr. Mellors has traced the Boningtons for us from Arnold to Nottingham, and to their leaving England for France, in 1816; but we, in England, know very little about Bonington after this date, especially of his art development; and it is to the French we must look for further information in this respect.

I am glad to say that much interest has lately been aroused in France by the articles in La Revue de L'Art Ancien et Moderne, upon Bonington, by M. Dubuisson, whose life of the painter will shortly be published.

It was to his father that Richard Parkes Bonington owed his first instruction in the principles of drawing, but on arriving at Calais in 1816, his father could not pay any attention to him, but rather endeavoured to discourage in him the desire to become a painter.

It is interesting for us to note, in following the course of Bonington's art development, that at this time young Richard, who was then 15, transplanted abruptly into a country of which he did not know the language, without guide or purpose, and no longer receiving any instruction, would doubtless have been apprenticed to become a worker in the lace factory had not chance brought him to know a painter of talent, Louis Francia (whose name is indeed forgotten to-day), who also had come from London to settle in Calais—his native town—and who, early in life, came to England and made a great reputation as a water-colourist. Francia, finding that Bonington was attracted by his painting out of doors and showed a lively interest in following his work, took him to his house and gave him some lessons. The young pupil quickly understood and assimilated with rare ease and facility the master's excellent principles. These Bonington retained all his life, and there can be no doubt of this, when the water-colours of the master and pupil are seen together. They are so alike that sometimes one can be taken for the other. It appears evident that it is to Francia that Bonington owes his talent as a water-colourist.

After some opposition from Bonington's father, Francia was able to keep him as pupil, and eventually sent him to Dunkerque to the house of his friend, Mr. Morel, a rich amateur, who thought he could do nothing better than send Bonington to Paris with a letter of introduction to his artist friend, Eugene Delacroix, who in writing to the critic Thore, thirty-five years afterwards, thus describes their meeting:—"When I had to meet him for the first time, I was also very young, and I was making some studies in the Louvre Galleries. It was about 1816 or 1817. I saw an adolescent youth in short tunic, also quietly making studies in water-colours." Thus began a friendship which lasted until Bonington's death.

After two years assiduous work in the Louvre Galleries, Bonington in 1819, entered the Schools of the Beaux Arts for the purpose of studying the living model in the studio of A. Jean Gros, though his quick and independent mind had no sympathy with the academic poses of the school of David and his pupils.

From the year 1820, on leaving Gros' studio, Bonington began to travel, visiting Dunkerque, and then Brittany, and Normandy, etc. In 1824 he exhibited in the Salon in company with Lawrence, Constable and the Fieldings, and was awarded a Gold Medal.

Bonington was a passionate admirer of Watteau's works, and we can see how in his figure subjects he was influenced by that painter; but it is by Bonington's landscapes, coast scenes, views of buildings, etc., that his art will live.

Delacroix said of him "He was a King in his own domain," and in a letter to Thore says "We all love him, how much indeed must all those young artists love this good fellow, so natural and modest, disinterested and generous, and full of enthusiasm, who brought them a new foreign element, and who carried them all along the road so brilliantly followed by the great landscape painters of 1830.

England, and especially Nottingham, can be truly proud of Richard Parkes Bonington, though he died so young; for as one of his later biographers has said of him "he has become, thanks to his natural gifts and his artistic education, the living feature of union between the French and English schools, and is one of the principal innovators who carry the young generation towards new horizons."