I must confess that I had never heard of Richard Parkes Bonington until I read about him in John Banville’s novel Mrs Osmond. The novel is a sequel to Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, and Banville has caught James’s style so well it’s as if he has brought James back to life to follow up a novel where you are left wondering with some desperation what happened to the heroine.
Anyway, Gilbert Osmond, the ghastly, conniving aesthete, gives his daughter a book of Bonington’s paintings. The gift is part of a ruse to get his daughter to go and stay with an English lord with the hope that she might marry his son or any available aristocrat. Osmond insists that Bonington, who died at age 27 in 1828, was a master.
Intrigued, I looked at his paintings on my phone, and this one hit me. It made me think of Turner’s watercolours of the Venetian lagoon, which he painted some 20 years after Bonington and are some of my favourite paintings. I’ve always thought that Turner’ paintings of the lagoon, which are almost entirely abstract, were ahead of their time and forerunners of the Impressionists. https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/2016/05/08/turner-a-bank-note-and-a-theory/ But Bonington, whose painting is oil on cardboard not watercolour, seemed even further ahead. He must be one of the best examples of where we are left wondering what marvels he would have created if he had lived longer.