Bonington was born in 1802 near Nottingham, England. In about 1817, his family moved to Calais, France. In 1818, Bonington went to Paris, where he met Eugene Delacroix and made watercolor copies of Dutch and Flemish landscapes in the Louvre. In 1821-1822, he studied under Antoine-Jean Gros at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. His first works, mostly sketches of Le Havre and Lillebonne, were exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1822. He also began to work in lithography, illustrating Baron Taylor’s Voyages. In 1824, he won a gold medal at the Paris Salon. He traveled all over France and especially in Normandy, painting coastal landscapes and seaport scenes Coast of Picardy (1823-1824), French River Scene with Fishing Boats (1824), A Boat Beached in a Port at Low Tide (1825); he also went to England and Scotland, occasionally accompanied by his friend Eugène Delacroix, in whose studio he later worked. In 1826, Bonington visited Venice, where he was deeply impressed by Veronese and Canaletto: St. Mark's Column in Venice (c.1826-1828), The Doge's Palace, Venice (1827), Piazza San Marco, Venice (1827).
From 1824 he experimented increasingly in romantic subjects taken from history and studied armor. His best-known works on historical subjects followed: Francis I and Marguerite of Navarre, Henri III and the English Ambassador(1827-1828), Venice. The Grand Canal (1827).
Bonington, like John Constable, was one of the English artists whose landscapes were highly regarded in France. He was among the first artists in France to paint watercolors outdoors rather than in studio. His approach to nature as well as his technique stimulated the Barbizon painters and – with Eugene Isabey, Eugene Boudin and Johann Barthold Jongkind as intermediaries – paved the way for Impressionism.
Bonington died of tuberculosis in London, only 26 years old.
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