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'In the early 19th century a community of interests between British and French artists reduced the Channel to insignificance'
Duncan Robinson, Director Yale Center for British Art
A phenomenon, widely understood in both France and England, and what art critics of the 1820s talked of as a school, was later called le Boningtonisme, a term first coined by H. Lemaître in Le Paysage Anglais à l'aquarelle 1760-1851, Paris, 1955. Building on the early 19th century developments in watercolour painting in England, the term referred to a group of artists whose watercolours were characterised by a freedom of handling of the medium, a brilliance of colour, an articulate heightening with bodycolour and a use of autographic accents. Subject matter included above all plein air marine and coastal landscape but also extended to small-scale history painting, townscapes and oriental themes. Artists linked to the group included Thomas Shotter Boys (lots 51-54), James Holland (lot 55), William Wyld (lots 56-7), William Callow (lot 59), John Scarlett Davis (lot 60) and, of course, Bonington's mentor François Louis Thomas Francia (lot 63).
Francia had arrived in London from France in 1790 and on meeting John Varley soon joined the group of artists who met at Dr Monro's, where he was a fellow student with Thomas Girtin. The Sketching Society accepted him both as a founding member and secretary. He exhibited with the Associated Artists from 1810, where he also became the secretary the following year. In 1816 he failed to gain election as an Associate of the Royal Academy and the following year he returned to Calais where he taught his most famous pupil Richard Parkes Bonington. It has often been said that in his coastal scenes of the Calais years it is difficult to tell whether he or Bonington influenced the other more.
Boys was apprenticed to George Cooke the engraver and father of E.W. Cooke. At the end of his apprenticeship (1817-1823) he went to Paris where he worked as an engraver, lithographer and finally as a watercolourist. He became acquainted with Bonington in Paris and it was Bonington who encouraged him to take up watercolour painting. Boys and Callow shared a studio in the 1830s before Boys returned to London in 1837. Back in London he colour lithographed the sheathes of drawings that he had done in Paris as Picturesque Architecture in Paris, Ghent, Antwerp, Rouen etc., 1839, these volumes reached a standard in print-making never previously achieved. It is Boys's early work (such as lots 51-3), when he was most under the influence of Bonington that is considered to be his greatest and is at times almost indistinguishable from that of his mentor.
David Cox met Francia in Paris, and his atmospheric Rue Vivienne (lot 61) has thus to be seen in the light of the Bonington movement. His graphic shorthand indicating the details of the architecture is a technique developed by Bonington and Callow, particularly seen in their Venetian canal scenes. The articulate underdrawing and minimalist washes of Callow's Mont Vécours on the Seine could almost be mistaken for Boys's, with whom he worked closely during his time in France, where the two shared a studio and Boys passed on the influence of Bonington.
Scarlett Davis entered the Academy Schools in 1820, possibly having had lessons from Cox, showing his work at the Academy for the first time in 1822 and continuing to show his work there until 1841. From 1830 until his death he mainly worked on the Continent, apart from a few brief returns to fulfil commissions, and it was while in France that he picked up the influence of Bonington. Davis worked primarily on commissions, only managing to exhibit seven works at the Royal Academy over a period of nearly twenty years. Little is known about Davis with the result that many of his works have been wrongly attributed to Bonington, their technique and subject being so similar.
The other artists so influenced by Bonington and included in this collection are James Holland, William Wyld and William Roxby Beverley. Holland did not visit France until 1831 but came under his influence indirectly through the work of other artists who had worked with Bonington. The influence is particularly strong in his work executed up until the early 1840s. Wyld was secretary to the British Consul in Calais where he met Francia, from whom he took lessons and through him met Bonington whose work he greatly admired. Like Cox, Beverley started as a scene painter and worked as scenic director at Covent Garden and Drury Lane (1853 - 84), while exhibiting marine watercolours at the Royal Academy. Beverley was taught by Clarkson Stanfield, who worked in a manner influenced by Bonington.
Bonington was considered to be a hero of the Romantic tradition, a fitting accolade considering his precocious talent but perhaps also enhanced by his early death; the watercolours in the pages that follow illustrate the heights to which his followers climbed.