Thursday, September 21, 2023

Unseen Turner and Bonington watercolours now on display

Turner and Bonington: Watercolours from the Wallace Collection is a new display of previously unseen watercolours by two of the most significant  watercolour painters of the 19th century - Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) and Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828).  It opened yesterday and is on for the next six months - until 21 April 2024 - in what's known as 'The Housekeeper's Room' on the ground floor just beyond the shop.

Turner and Bonington are two of the finest watercolour painters that England has ever produced. Plus these 19th century watercolours are normally kept in storage as they are very sensitive to light - and they have never been exhibited before at the Wallace Collection or elsewhere.

Richard Parkes Bonington
Venice_ The Doge’s Palace from the Ponte della Paglia, c. 1827-28
© The Trustees of the Wallace Collection

There are only 9 small previously unseen. watercolour paintings and 1 medium sized oil painting however they are definitely worth a trip to see them. The paintings are arranged in themes:

  • Turner and Yorkshire (4 paintings)
  • Bonington and Normandy (3 Paintings)
  • Bonington's Views of Venice (3 paintings)
“The theme of the display is travel; in the sense of finding captivating views whether within the confines of one’s own country or through exploring other countries. The Normandy coves depicted by Bonington were notorious at the time for smuggling, which would have piqued the curiosity of the contemporary viewer, while Venice was, of course, the centre of the Grand Tour and attracted artists and aristocratic tourists in great numbers.”
Dr Lucy Davis, Curator at the Wallace Collection

Another theme relates to how each artist dealt with painting light and atmosphere. 

Turner and Yorkshire

Four watercolours about Yorkshire by JMW Turner

Turner spent a long career based in Britain but also travelled extensively around the UK and across Europe.

This first series is of Yorkshire and are four views painted for Sir William Pilkington (1775-1850) who was a contemporary of Turner and a close family friend. He was based at Chevet Hall near Wakefield.

The four watercolours followed his normal process of being 
  • based on "on the spot" plein air sketches - in the sketchbooks which now form part of the Turner Bequest at Tate Britain.
  • subsequently worked up into finished watercolour paintings either in his studio or in Yorkshire.
They comprise (left to right):
  • Scarborough Castle: Boys Crab Fishing (1809)
  • Hackfall, near Ripon (1816)
  • Woodcock shooting on Otley Chevin (1813)
  • Grouse shooting on Beamsley Beacon (1816)
It's my guess that Sir William enjoyed his food and these watercolours represent favourite pursuits and food with places he knows very well.

JMW Turner
Scarborough Castle: Boys Crab Fishing (1809)
© The Trustees of the Wallace Collection

Interestingly, Turner’s Yorkshire paintings were also made during a time when travel to mainland Europe was prevented by the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815).

They were also painted when Turner was developing his mid-life career, following his early success which included being made Royal Academician. He enjoying great success as a landscape painter and had his own commercial gallery at 64 Harley Street a in his mid-thirties. He was also becoming increasingly experimental in his watercolour technique.

Bonington and Normandy

Bonington spent his very short career (he died age 26) in France and is considered to be Anglo-French. He exhibited his artwork in both England and France.

Born in Arnold, near Nottingham, Bonington moved with his parents to Calais in 1817 when he was 15 and was encouraged by the local watercolourist François Louis Thomas Francia (1772–1839) to follow him in painting coastal and shore scenes. In 1818 the family moved to Paris where Bonington made watercolour copies of Dutch and Flemish landscapes in the Louvre. In 1820 he became a pupil of Baron Gros (1771-1835) in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and from 1821 he undertook regular sketching tours in Normandy. Press Briefing

Normandy Watercolours by Richard Parkes Bonington.

The Normandy paintings are later than Turner's.
  • Fishing Boats, c.1822
  • Rouen, c. 1825
  • Sunset in the Pays Caux, 1828
Bonington used sketches made on his extended tour of Normandy and Picardy in 1821 to create the watercolours hung in the display.

Bonington's Views of Venice

Bonington's Views of Venice

The two watercolour paintings are either side of an oil painting by Bonington of The Piazza San Marco. They are:
  • Venice: The Piazzetta, c. 1826-27
  • Venice: The Doge’s Palace from the Ponte della Paglia, c. 1827-28
Interestingly the unfinished oil painting in the middle is one which has hung in the public galleries upstairs - and I sketched it, back in 2012! See below and Wallace Collection: Sketching Venice by Bonington (4th February 2012) | Travels with a Sketchbook

Sketch of Venice: the Piazza San Marco (1828)
an oil painting by Richard Parkes Bonington
11" x 8", pen and ink and coloured pencil in Moleskine Sketchbook

Needless to day, having drawn it I recognised it straight away!

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