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A Cook
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A Cook

Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Inscription Credit
Description In this scene, a cook wearing a vermilion apron is chopping a large cabbage. Commonplace vegetables are strewn in front of her, including turnips, leeks, celery roots, carrots, and lettuce. The model has been identified as the artist's wife, Constance Félicité Gaudon, and the location as the family's small tavern. Light from a window at the right penetrates the scene to reveal details in the background including the hanging basket and the shelf with a row of candlesticks, a coffee mill, and a lantern. Placed on the stove is a large, glimmering copper pot. 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. This watercolor was reporduced as a wood engraving in the Christmas 1885 edition of "Harper's New Monthly Magazine," and was likely hanging in Walters' Baltimore townhouse from 1885 (see “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. 191.
Date Description Narrative
6/20/1979Examinationexamined for loan
9/02/1980Examinationexamined for exhibition
1/01/2002Treatmentexamined for exhibition; cleaned; mounted; other
  • A Baltimorean in Paris: George A. Lucas, 1860-1909. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1979.
  • The Drawings and Watercolors of Léon Bonvin. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1980-1981.
  • A Connoisseur's Portfolio: Nineteenth-century Drawings and Watercolors in the Walters Art Gallery. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1983.
  • A Vanishing Meadow: The Watercolors of Léon Bonvin. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1994.
  • 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 Purchased by William T. Walters, Baltimore (through George A. Lucas as agent), 1862 [1]; inherited by Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894; by bequest to Walters Art Museum, 1931. [1] Randall, The Diary of George A. Lucas, December 17, 1862, vol. 2, p. 146.
Inscriptions [Signature and date] Brown ink, lower left: Léon Bonvin 62; [Number] Graphite, verso: C2
Credit Acquired by William T. Walters, 1862

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watercolor, gouache, pen and iron gall ink heightened with gum varnish over graphite underdrawing on cream, moderately thick, moderately textured laid paper
(Painting & Drawing)
Accession Number
H: 8 3/16 × W: 6 3/8 in. (20.8 × 16.19 cm) Framed H: 21 1/4 × W: 16 1/4 × D: 1 5/16 in. (53.98 × 41.28 × 3.33 cm)
  • France (Place of Origin)
  • France, Paris (Place Depicted)
Location Within Museum
Not On View

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