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Study of Clouds

Richard Parkes Bonington (1802–1828)

English, Romantic
ca. 1820 - 1829
6.19 cm x 15.24 cm (2 7/16 in. x 6 in.)
watercolor on paper

Not on view


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This watercolor study and the others of this set (HC.P.1955.15.a-h.[WC]) may originally have made up part of an artist's sketchbook of cream wove paper. One of the studies is initialed R.P.B.(HC.D.1955.15.f.[WC]), identifying them as the work of Richard Parkes Bonington. Bonnington may have made these individualized cloud formation studies in anticipation of painting atmospheric skies in his oil landscapes, although it is unlikely that the studies were specifically quoted. However, these studies appear to be faithful records of presumably quickly moving cloud formations. He represents different varieties of cloud types, the direction of their movement, and their dimensional form and coloration from the sunlight. There are similar cloud studies by Bonington in the Frick Collection, New York.

Richard Parkes Bonington was born in 1802 in Arnold, England, but spent most of his younger years in the City of Nottingham. He first studied with his father, also an artist. In 1817-1818, his family moved to Calais and then to Paris, where Bonington studied under Antoine-Jean Gros at the École des Beaux-Arts in 1819-1822, met Eugène Delacroix and made watercolor copies of Dutch and Flemish landscapes in the Louvre. 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 throughout France and especially Normandy, painting coastal landscapes and seaport scenes. He also went to England and Scotland, occasionally accompanied by Delacroix, in whose studio he later worked. At the age of twenty, Bonington went to Italy, and in 1826 he visited Venice, where he was deeply impressed by Veronese and Canaletto. From 1824 he experimented increasingly in romantic subjects taken from history and studied armor. 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, and his approach to nature as well as his technique stimulated the the later Barbizon painters. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 26 in London.

John Constable, an English artist who had a great influence on Bonington, was also interested in cloud studies. During the autumn and summer of 1821 and 1822, he made a concerted effort to paint cloud studies. In a letter of 1821, he wrote his friend, the Reverand John Fisher: "I have done a good deal of skying - I am determined to conquer all difficulties.... That landscape painter who does not make skies a very material part of the composition - neglects to avail himself of one of his greatest aids."

J. Carder

Acquisition History
Purchased as part of a set of eight drawings from Matthiesen Ltd., London, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 8/11/1955.

Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 8/11/1955-1/17/1969.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.