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Sunset, Woodland Scene
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Sunset, Woodland Scene

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Description ""His body was not found until Saturday, at Meudon, at the foot of a tree, near the pond of Villebois. The branch had broken. This is the only damage he ever did in his life. He was just thirty-two years of age'. . . [Bonvin] lies in the unconsecrated corner of a suburban cemetery, in the accursed burying-place of those who had died of their own hand. His remains ought rather to have been laid in a thicket . . . where every spring the branches grow green and the violets bloom, ignorant of human wretchedness." Philippe Burty, quoting a letter from François Bonvin, the artist's half-brother, "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.
Date Description Narrative
9/02/1980Examinationexamined for exhibition
1/01/2002Treatmentexamined for loan; cleaned; re-housed; mounted; other
  • A Supple Brush: The Flowering of Continental Watercolors. 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 Vanishing Meadow: The Watercolors of Léon Bonvin. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1994.
  • 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 (?) [1], likely before 1885 [2]; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1894, by inheritance; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest. [1] possibly one of seven purchased by Lucas in 1864 (see Randall, Diaries of George A. Lucas, vol. 2, p. 172 and p. 174). [2] 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. 189.
Inscriptions [Signature and date] In red watercolor, lower right: Léon Bonvin 1864; [Mark] In graphite, upper left, verso: +; [Mark] In red pencil in upper right, verso: X
Credit Acquired by William T. Walters, 1864 (?), likely before 1885

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watercolor and gum heightening, iron gall ink and pen, on slightly textured, moderately thick, cream wove paper
(Painting & Drawing)
Accession Number
H: 9 1/2 × W: 7 3/16 in. (24.2 × 18.3 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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