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Thistles and Weeds
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Thistles and Weeds

Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Inscription Credit
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.
Date Description Narrative
6/20/1979Examinationexamined for loan
9/02/1980Examinationexamined for exhibition
1/01/2002Treatmentexamined for loan; re-housed; mounted; other
  • From Delacroix to Cézanne: French Watercolor Landscapes of the Nineteenth Century. Art Gallery, University of Maryland, College Park; Speed Art Museum, Louisville; The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor. 1977-1978.
  • The Drawings and Watercolors of Léon Bonvin. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1980-1981.
  • Millet and His Barbizon Contemporaries. Keio Department Store, Tokyo. 1985.
  • 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 Road to Impressionism: Landscapes from Corot to Manet. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. 2004-2005.
  • 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 William T. Walters, Baltimore, 1864 (?) by purchase [through George A. Lucas as agent] [1]; inherited by Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894; by bequest to Walters Art Museum, 1931, [1] In a diary entry for 13 February 1864 Lucas records "Visit from Bonvin with 3 aquarelles, Salads, dessert & winter landscape" (Randall, Diary of George A. Lucas, vol. 2, p. 172), given that there are no other watercolors of this subject from this date or before this date in Walters' collection, it is likely that this watercolor is the "winter landscape" Lucas descibes.
Inscriptions [Signature and date] In black ink, lower left: Léon Bonvin 1864; [Number] In graphite, center, verso: 1; [Number] In graphite, right of center, verso: 21; [Number] In graphite, lower left, corner, verso: 14; [Number] Traces of erased graphite, right lower edge, verso: 304
Credit Acquired by William T. Walters, 1864 (?)

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watercolor with gum heightening, gouache, iron gall ink and pen, and graphite over graphite underdrawing on slightly textured, moderately thick, cream wove paper
(Painting & Drawing)
Accession Number
H: 9 11/16 × W: 7 3/8 in. (24.6 × 18.7 cm) Framed H: 21 1/4 × W: 16 1/4 × D: 1 5/16 in. (53.98 × 41.28 × 3.33 cm)
Location Within Museum
Not On View


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