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Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-28)

( Originally Published 1955 )

British painter in oils and watercolor. Showed great talent at an early age with a variety of themes and techniques but became best known as an exponent of the Romantic landscape, i.e., the landscape of mood. Taken to France at an early age, he learned watercolor and lithography there. At fifteen he studied under Baron Gros in Paris, where his work began to sell, and also in London. His presence in France may be considered a direct influence on the rising school of landscapists in that country. During his short lifetime he did seascapes, Italian scenery pictures, and historical studies typical of the Romantic age-all in rich colors and strong contrasts of light and shade. After 1824 he turned to oils and under the influence of Delacroix did a number of Orientalist illustrations for the Arabian Nights. In his last few years the young Englishman was affected by the rising star of the great landscapist Constable. We may distinguish between the early dexterity of Bonington in watercolor and his later work in oils. The earlier style was at that time still an English novelty with its delicacy of execution, its feeling for light and a charm that is independent of the subject portrayed. From here the transition to the spontaneous emotive handling of oils characteristic of the young Romantics was but a short step. With Turner and Constable, Bonington is responsible for the pochade fashion, i.e., rapid records in oil paint of transitional and fleeting effects in nature.

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