Description 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.
|1/01/2002||Treatment||examined for exhibition; cleaned; mounted; re-housed; other|
- 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.
- Near Paris: The Watercolors of Leon Bonvin. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2012.
Provenance William T. Walters, Baltimore, 1863 (?), by commission [George A. Lucas as agent] , certainly purchased before 1885 ; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894, by inheritance; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.  In a diary entry Lucas records that Bonvin made 12 watercolors for William T. Walters in 1863. The commission was likely given on 12 February (see Randall, Diary of George A. Lucas, vol. 2, p. 150), on 14 October of the same year Lucas records "Bonvin delivered the 12th flower for W's - paid him the remaining 100 fs making 300 fs for the 12" (Randall, Diary of George A. Lucas, vol. 2, p. 163).  Published as a wood engraving in "Harper's New Monthly Magazine," 1885, captioned as "owned by Mr. W. T. Walters." Likely hanging in Walters' Baltimore townhouse from 1885 (“The Walters Art Collection, Recent Additions – Barye, Millet, Bonnat – Bonvin’s Water Colors,” Baltimore Sun, 1 February 1886, p. 4.), described in R.B. Gruelle's catalogue of the gallery "Notes Critical and Biographical" (1895), p. 190.
Inscriptions [Signature and date] Brown ink, lower left: Léon Bonvin 1863; [Number] Graphite at center, verso: C1 and 3; [Number] Graphite, lower right corner, verso: 4; [Number] Traces of erased graphite, right of center on lower edge, verso: 288
Credit Commissioned by William T. Walters, 1863 (?), certainly acquired before 1885
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