Using graphite, and pen and ink, Leon Bonvin (1834-1866) created pristine lines and his watercolor technique produced colors both delicate and buoyant. Bonvin, who live his life in poverty, felt keenly his inability to afford oil paints but I find no lack in the watercolors and charcoals he created. His hunger to create, to get it all down on paper, in spite of all difficulties, vibrates from the paper.
(1817-1997) was the first child, born in Paris to a policeman and a seamstress. After his mother died when he was four years old, the father remarried another seamstress and there were nine more children Leon, the family caboose, grew up at an inn the family ran in the village of Vaugirard (now a suburb of Paris).
Both boys showed an early desire to draw, but Francois, who grew up in Paris, was able to spend time at the Louvre, even though apprenticed to a printer at age thirteen. Not especially healthy and never well to do, Francois helped his younger brother as he could, encouraging Leon to keep at his art.
Interior of a House with an Open Door strikes me as being autobiographical , contrasting a claustrophobic interior with lighted shining path. Compressed here is the frustration of confinement and a glimpse of a wider world ,obscured by blazing sunlight, or so it appears to the one inside. And always the implied loneliness, always the spectator waiting by the roadside.
Without wishing to take anything away from Francois Bonvin's lustre, it is painful to think that Leon's pictures brought him so little recognition - and the money that he needed so desperately to support his wife.
The next day Bonvin hanged himself from a tree in the forest of Meudon, a place that overlooked the plains of Issy that the artist depicted with such affection in his watercolors. The little family inn, Bonvin's wife, and the dog and the cat were all left waiting in Vaugirard for his return.
In the charcoal of his little dog, Bonvin's chiaroscuro approaches abstraction, foreshadowing works by Seurat, like the dog guarding the baby carriage.
1. Francois Bonvin - Portrait of Leon Bonvin at His Easel, 1860s, private collection, Cleveland Museum of Art.
2. Leon Bonvin - The Rabbit Hutch, undated, Louvre Museum, Paris.
3. Leon Bonvin - Woman Sweeping, 1860s, Walters Gallery, Baltimore.
4 Leon Bonvin - The Open Door, Louvre Museum, Paris.
5. Leon Bonvin - Moonlit Scene, 1864, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
6. Leon Bonvin - His Little Dog, undated, Louvre Museum, Paris.
7. Leon Bonvin - A White Poodle, a Black Cat, and a Frying Pan, no date, Louvre Museum, Paris.
Addendum: During the original post of this article some text and images disappeared into the cloud, but have now reappeared. My apologies for any confusion.