Two boats are moored along the right bank of the river Seine as it passes through a peaceful landscape edged with slender trees. Ethereal forms in muted greys and greens are set against a luminous sky, the whole bathed in pearly morning light. The more substantial manner in which the boats are painted makes a marked contrast with the ghostly trees, the whole tied together by reflections on the still water. The figure seated in the boat lends the landscape human scale, his red tunic drawing our eye and anchoring our gaze in this light-filled insubstantial scene.
This painting, which may be an imaginary composition rather than a study made in the open air, is one of several views of the Seine that Bonington made after returning to France from his 1825 trip to London. Such scenes were inspired by Bonington’s observation of the French landscape as well as the work of his British contemporaries, Turner and Constable.
Richard Parkes Bonington had English parents but spent much of his short life in France, tragically dying from tuberculosis when he was only 25. He received a gold medal at the 1824 Paris Salon, along with the British painters Constable and Copley Fielding. He spent much time exploring the north coast of France, and in 1825 he visited London with several French artists, including Delacroix.
This painting is one of several views of the river Seine that Bonington made after returning from London. Two boats are moored along the right bank of the river as it passes through a peaceful landscape edged with slender trees. Ethereal forms in muted greys and greens are set against the sky, the whole bathed in pearly morning light. The more substantial manner in which the boats are painted makes a marked contrast with the ghostly representation of the groups of trees, particularly those in the centre, the whole tied together by reflections on the still water. The figure seated in the boat lends the landscape human scale, his red tunic drawing our eye into the composition and anchoring our gaze in this light-filled insubstantial scene. A few ducks glide towards the silvery trees in the centre as the river meanders gently into the distance, the foliage merely suggested by unblended feathery brushstrokes. The tall mast of the boat on the right adds a strong contrasting vertical accent and signals the luminosity of the sky, a notable aspect of Bonington’s achievements as a painter.
This may be an imaginary composition rather than a plein-air study. In 1825–6 Bonington made a number of these scenes in which he arranged trees, rivers and buildings in different combinations inspired by his observation of French landscapes as well as the work of his contemporary, Turner. The composition and dynamic handling of the paint, displaying great economy and deftness of touch in the atmospheric transitions from foreground to distance, certainly evoke Turner’s pictures. In its representation of a tree-lined river and the small red-clothed figure on the right, the painting can also be connected to the work of Constable, in particular Stratford Mill, The Cornfield, and The Hay Wain, which won Constable a gold medal at the 1824 Paris Salon. Bonington’s picture also has a relationship with Constable’s looser, plein-air paintings in the Gallery’s collection, such as Weymouth Bay: Bowleaze Cove and Jordon Hill. As a whole, Bonington’s work reflects the close relationship between French and British art during the Romantic period.
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