Tuesday 25 October 2016


Above, for your viewing pleasure, is La Ferté by Richard Parkes Bonington, a small but expansive and light-filled watercolour that hangs in the National Gallery. Bonington - born on this day in 1802 - was an artist almost too gifted for his own good: his prodigious technical facility led him to produce too much and spread himself too thinly, to the detriment of his later reputation. He was a reliably brilliant landscape and topographical painter, who was equally adept at watercolour and oil (and his own hybrid medium of watercolour mixed with gouache and gum).
 English-born (in Nottinghamshire), Bonington moved with his family to France at the age of 14, and was soon establishing himself as an artist to watch. Oddly, he learnt the English watercolour technique (à la Girtin) from a French teacher, and that technique was to be his great gift to French art. The French, notably Delacroix, rated him highly from the start, and he won a gold medal at the Paris Salon at the age of 22. Sadly, he died of tuberculosis just four years later.
 After his death, Delacroix wrote that 'no one in the modern school, and perhaps even before, has possessed that lightness of touch which, especially in watercolours, makes his work a kind of diamond that flatters and ravishes the eye...' That diamond-like quality, and that wonderful lightness of touch, are gloriously evident in La Ferté . Next time you're in the National Gallery, do seek it out.

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