Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The sad and beautiful story of Léon Bonvin

According to the J. Paul Getty Museum's website, "Léon Bonvin (French, 1834-1866) was born in the Parisian suburb of Vaugirard and had artistic ambitions from an early age. 

He was largely self-taught, though his older half-brother François, who had garnered recognition among Paris's realist painters, encouraged him and gave him supplies. 

While earning his living as an innkeeper, Bonvin drew directly from nature, recording the fields and flowers near his home and interior views of the inn. 

By the 1860s, he had turned exclusively to watercolor, creating landscapes and still lifes with remarkable luminosity. 

François encouraged him to study the Dutch and Flemish masters' meticulous realism and use of outline. By outlining the forms in sepia-toned ink, Bonvin achieved distinctive, almost photographic effects in his watercolors.  

After his marriage in 1861, Bonvin's financial situation worsened and his inn lost money. In January 1866 he traveled to Paris to try to sell his watercolors. 

The day after an art dealer refused his work, the despairing artist hanged himself in the forest of Meudon. A posthumous sale of his watercolors raised over 8,000 francs to benefit his destitute family."
Another Bio on The Blue Lantern
Another image at Lines and Colors


Rebecca Snow said...

What lovely work, what a sad ending.
Thank you for sharing his story.

armandcabrera said...

Thanks for introducing me to his work. So much for the idea that if you follow your heart and do what you love everything will work out fine.

James Gurney said...

Armand, apparently the gallery dealer told him that his pictures were too dark and not happy enough. Maybe he just talked to the wrong gallery dealer. Perhaps there was a gallery and an audience that would have embraced his work, but who knows? In the face of commercial pressures, it's hard for a gallery artist to hold onto their vision even when they're successful.

Robert J. Simone said...

Sad that desperate times and the pain of rejection led to Bonvin's tragic death. I think stress from the fear of rejection afflicts all artists to varying degrees. It is not easy to develop the kind of thick skin it takes to risk being turned away from art dealers, galleries and shows. But if one believes in his/her work, they simply must take the risk. Having faith that recovery does follow disappointment is helpful. Good post, James. Thanks.

James Gurney said...

Simone, so true. Sometimes an artist is lucky and has a spouse who can be the interface with the marketplace. Bonvin's qualities of melancholy and close observation remind me of Andrew Wyeth, who might not have been the success he was had it not been for the brilliant work of his wife Betsy.

Tom Hart said...

Amazing work, tragic ending. If there's anything positive about Bonvin's life as we know it, it's that he must have experienced the deep satisfaction (hopefully including solace and joy) that creating art brings.

(Are all of the works shown here watercolor?)

mp said...

Breathtakingly beautiful work...and proof that when all else falls away, great art stands on its own.

Diana Moses Botkin said...

Thank you for showing us the artist's paintings. Léon Bonvin's art is indeed beautiful. It is encouraging to see how wonderfully he painted, especially since he was self-taught.

It is sad to know he felt so alone and desperate when his work was rejected. How hard it is when one's best efforts don't seem to be good enough to get in desired galleries or shows.

It is tragic that he could not find some other commercial outlet for his work.

John Kelley said...

Though the ending of the story is uncommon, I think the hopelessness he felt is more common with Isolated artists. A community of artist can help you to avoid listening to yourself to much. Community is important. It's sad that he did not have others to help him deal with the rejections.

Ana said...

thank you for sharing.

Anwar Fazil said...

Bonvin's tragic death, very sad, Sometimes an artist is lucky and has a spouse who can be the interface with the marketplace.

Anonymous said...

8000 Francs (c. 1870) is in the ballpark of USD $150,000 today.