Born of English parents, Bonington spent much of his short life in France. He studied initially in Calais with Louis Francia before moving to Paris. In 1818 he first met Eugène Delacroix and enrolled in the atelier of Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, where he formed a lasting friendship with Paul Huet, a fellow pupil.
Bonington was an inveterate traveller and spent much time exploring the north coast of France. In 1825 he visited London with several French artists, including Delacroix, and in 1826 he travelled through Switzerland to Venice.
He died tragically young from consumption at the age of 26.
Bonington was one of the most important artists of the early nineteenth century, vital to the understanding of French and British art of the Romantic period. His range included history and subject paintings, and landscapes, highly-finished works and sketches, all imbued with a brilliance and sureness of touch which was greatly admired both during and after his lifetime.