Richard Parkes Bonington (25 October 1802 – 23 September 1828: aged 26) was a Romantic landscape painter who enjoyed painting coastal scenes. So the content of his paintings may lead one to believe he was influenced by the Dutch masters, which could well be the case. He learned the watercolour techniques of Thomas Girtin (a name probably derived from the French Guertin) an artist of French Huguenot descent and a rival of J. M. W. Turner. Turner was influenced by Flemish art. At any rate, we see the sailboats and windmills of the Netherlands. However, Bonington also produced a series of historical scenes and illustrated Sir Walter Scott.
The painting above is minimalist, uncluttered, somewhat monochromatic and the composition is extraordinary. The ships, the focal point, are positioned along a low horizontal line, intersected by a slightly oblique line that drops from the brightest area of the painting, the nearly white unshadowed water. The shores lead the eye to a vanishing point hidden beyond the sails. And then we have the sky, an immense backdrop.
In fact, Bonington and Delacroix travelled together to Bonington’s native England and became interested in the burgeoning fashion of painting historical scenes, a fashion exemplified by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and the Pre-Raphaelites, but also put to use by French Romantic painters, including Delacroix and Bonington. Bonington’s watercolours were very popular with the French public. He therefore sold many, which enabled him to travel to Picardy and to Flanders. These destinations may also help explain Bonington’s choice of content: French coastal scenes reminiscent of Flanders.
Bonington showed at the famous Paris Salon in 1822 and in 1824. In 1824, he showed with John Constable and Sir Thomas Lawrence, yet won a Gold Medal. He was 22 at the time and life was promising, but tuberculosis would soon kill him. He died when he was 25, just shy of his 26th birthday. It is therefore somewhat surprising that he should have been so influential. On the one hand, he brings to mind the Dutch masters, but his paintings nevertheless herald imprecise impressionism or impressionistic imprecision. According to the Encyclopædia Britannica,
[a]s a master of the Romantic movement and as a technical innovator in oil and watercolour, Bonington was influential in England and France. His gifts as a draftsman were high; as a colourist, good. He also showed his talent in the new medium of lithography, illustrating Sir Walter Scott.[i]