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L?on Bonvin, 1834-1866

Flowering Chrysanthemum with Worker

Description:Read An Essay On This Drawing

When queried by William Walters, Léon Bonvin denied that he had ever desired to paint camellias or cultivated flowers.1 Instead, he preferred the ordinary flowers of his small garden or the vegetation growing in the plains that extended beyond his house. His natures vivantes (as opposed to natures mortes, or still lifes) represented his most distinctive contribution to the French realist movement.2 In this scene, he has masterfully conveyed the time of day-the early morning when he was free to paint. A chrysanthemum plant is silhouetted against an uncultivated patch of wild carrots, grasses, and weeds. In the mid-ground, a peasant stoops, tilling the soil; discernible through the morning mists, rendered in whitewash, are houses and church spires. An inscription on the reverse of the sheet identifies the site as the plain of Issy, just outside Paris's fortifications. In the 1860s, both Vaugirard and the adjoining village of Issy were rapidly being developed to provide housing for those who had been displaced by Baron Haussmann's transformation of the core of Paris. William R. Johnston

1. P. Burty, "Leon Bonvin," Harper's New Monthly Magazine 75 (December 1885): 46.

2. Parallels can be drawn with the works of the English and American Pre-Raphelite and Victorian painters, including Edward Kington Brice (English, 1860-1948) and Emily Martineau (English, dates unknown), and Fidelia Bridges (American, 1823-1923) and John William Hill (American, 1812-1879), as well as with works by contemporary northern European artists such as Otto Didrik Ottesson (Danish, 1816-1892). Jean-François Millet produced several natures vivantes for his patron Gavet in 1867 (E. Moreau-Nélaton, Millet raconté par lui-même [Paris, 1921], 3:figs. 237 and 239).

Medium: watercolor, gouache, iron gall ink and pen heightened with gum varnish over graphite underdrawing on moderately textured, moderately thick, cream wove paper
Dimensions: height: 24.3 cm, width: 18.6 cm.
Date: 1863
Category: landscape
Subject: plant | flower | man | work
Inscriptions and Markings: "L?on Bonvin 1863" in brown ink, lower right; "33" in graphite, verso
Exhibition History: L?on Bonvin, an exhibition, Walters Art Gallery, Government House in Annapolis, 1997; A Vanishing Meadow: The Watercolors of L?on Bonvin, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD, 1994; The Drawings and Watercolors of L?on Bonvin, Cleveland Museum of Art / Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD, 1980-81, no. 15, p. 39, 40
Bibliography: Burty, Philippe. "L?on Bonvin". Harper's New Monthly Magazine 72. (December 1885-May 1886): 37-51. Weisberg, Gabriel. The Drawings and Watercolors of L?on Bonvin. Cleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art. 1980.: pp. 39, 40.
Provenance: William T. Walters, Baltimore, by commission, February 28, 1863 [1 of 12 watercolors, delivered by the artist, October 1863, 25 francs each, George A. Lucas as agent].
Collection: The Walters Art Museum
Credit Line: Commissioned by William T. Walters, 1863
Object Number: WAM 37.1518