Description "Here again is a fuller's thistle with its silhouette of threatening prickles, some wild carrots, and grasses shooting up in slender tubes; their outlines strike across a sky of light drifting vapors; the line of the horizon is broken by the glacis [slope] of the fort of Issy, and by the outstretched arms of a windmill." Philippe Burty, "Léon Bonvin," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, December 1885, sponsored by William T. Walters 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; re-housed; mounted; other|
- A Vanishing Meadow: The Watercolors of Léon Bonvin. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1994.
- Botanical Delights: Floral Motifs in 19th-Century Art. Government House, Annapolis; Strathmore Hall Art Center, North Bethesda; Academy Art Museum, Easton. 1998-1999.
- A Discerning Eye: Nineteenth-century Drawings and Watercolors. Academy Art Museum, Easton. 1998-1999.
- 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, by purchase (George A. Lucas as agent) 1864 (?) , certainly before 1885 ; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894, by inheritance; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.  possibly one of seven purchased by Lucas in 1864 (see Randall, Diaries of George A. Lucas, vol. 2, p. 172 and p. 174).  Published as a wood engraving in "Harper's New Monthly Magazine," 1885, captioned as "owned by Mr. W. T. Walters."
Inscriptions [Signature and date] In ink, lower right: Léon Bonvin 1864; [Number] In graphite, right of center, verso: 9; [Number] Traces of erased graphite, lower right edge, verso: 305; [Watermark] Partial watermark in upper right corner, recto
Credit Acquired by William T. Walters, 1864 (?), certainly before 1885
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