Description In this scene, Bonvin has masterfully conveyed the time of day-the early morning when he was free to paint-a chrysanthemum plant is silhouetted against an uncultivated patch of wild carrots, grasses, and weeds. In the mid-ground, a peasant stoops, toiling in the soil; discernible through the morning mists, rendered in white wash, are houses and church spires. An inscription on the reverse of the sheet identifies the site as the plain of Issy just outside Paris's fortifications. In the 1860s, both Vaugirard and the adjoining village of Issy were rapidly being developed to provide housing for those who had been displaced by Baron Haussmann's transformation of the core of Paris. Léon Bonvin was born in Vaugirard, just outside Paris in 1834. Despite displaying great talent in the medium of watercolor he was largely unrecognized by his contemporaries. In 1866 he hanged himself at the age of 32, apparently due to financial difficulties. Working at his family's bar or "cabaret," he sketched and painted watercolors only in his spare moments, yet in the seven year period between 1859 and his death he created numerous exquisite still lifes of flowers and fruits, and subtle landscapes capturing fleeting atmospheric effects. There is evidence that, despite his rural home, Bonvin did have knowledge of the art world in Paris. His half-brother was the better known artist, François Bonvin. In addition Bonvin's still lifes show the influence of Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779), whose work was undergoing a revival in the 1850s and 60s. During the 19th century an appreciation of Bonvin's work was confined to a small circle of connoisseurs and collectors, most prominent among them William T. Walters, father of Henry Walters, founder of the Walters Art Museum. For much of the 19th century William displayed and stored his watercolors in a deluxe leather-bound album with a specially commissioned frontispiece and tailpiece by the renowned flower painter of the Lyon school, Jean-Marie Reignier (see WAM 37.1501 and 37. 1531). William's collection of Bonvin's work was acquired between 1862 and 1891, and eventually comprised 56 watercolors and one, rare oil; today, this is the largest collection of Bonvin's work in existence.
|6/20/1979||Examination||examined for loan|
|9/02/1980||Examination||examined for exhibition|
|1/01/2002||Treatment||examined for exhibition; mounted; other|
- The Drawings and Watercolors of Léon Bonvin. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1980-1981.
- A Vanishing Meadow: The Watercolors of Léon Bonvin. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1994.
- Parallels and Precedents: Baltimore's George A. Lucas Collection. Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore. 1995.
- Léon Bonvin (1834-1866). Government House, Annapolis. 1997.
- The Essence of Line: French Drawings from Ingres to Degas. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham; Tacoma Art Museum, Tacoma. 2005-2006.
Provenance Commissioned by William T. Walters (through George A. Lucas as agent), Baltimore, February 28, 1863; inherited by Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894; by bequest to Walters Art Museum, 1931.  The Diary of George A. Lucas, p. 151.
Inscriptions [Signature and date] In brown ink, lower right: Léon Bonvin 1863; [Number] In graphite, verso: 33; [Watermark] J Whatman Turkey Mill
Credit Commissioned by William T. Walters, 1863
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