CULTURE: Genius Brought to Life in Fascinating History; Dead at 28, Richard Parkes Bonington Was a Brief but Dazzling Talent in the Golden Age of British Landscape Painting. Richard Edmonds Reviews a New Book about Him

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Edmonds

The artist Richard Parkes Bonington was just 28 years oldwhen he died in 1828. JohnKeats, the poet,had died at 26 a few years earlier - and you wonder if Bonington and Keats ever met and what they might have thought of each other.

Bonington was an attractive and affable young man and a superlative artist, ambitious and hugely gifted, and his work in watercolour compares very favourably with that of John Constable and J M W Turner. It has the same confidence and the same strength in this treatment of landscape.

Wegenerally think that Boningtonwas British and in somesense hewas (his father had, at one point, worked as a Nottinghamshire gaoler) but by the early-19th century, the Boningtons had moved to Paris where the prospect of economic survival seemed healthier.

In a curious way, it was the younger Bonington's talent as a painter which eventually supported his entrepreneurial father. Although beginning life as a painter, in a similar way to his son, Bonington snr ran a fabrics business in France specialising in French lace. This later collapsed, like so much else in Europe, due to the economic stagnationwhich brought poverty in itswake in the early part of the 19th century. Yet Bonington's father had made his way in both the art and business worlds and he had left a certain amount of common sense with his son, who he encouraged in the burgeoning cause of naturalistic landscape painting.

This was being embraced heartily by other distinctive painters including Thomas Girtin, Copley Fielding and Samuel Prout. These were the men who favoured watercolour sketches taken on site and who all produced watercolour washes of an almost startling abstract quality, something which Bonington also displayed when he moved into his maturity as a painter. …