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Who was Richard Bonington? The renowned painter from Arnold whose life was cut short by tuberculosis

He has a school, theatre and even a popular social club named after him

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You can’t walk around Arnold town centre for long without seeing the name ‘Richard Bonington’ popping up somewhere.

He has a school, theatre and even a popular social club named after him – but what do we really know about the man who lent his name to so much in Arnold?

So, who was Richard Bonington?

Richard Parkes Bonington was born in the town of Arnold on October 25, 1802.

He was the only child of Richard Bonington and Eleanor Parks.

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Bonington was reputed to have been skilled at drawing from a young age and to have loved acting. Very little is known about his schooling.

In 1817 the Boningtons emigrated to France and set up a lace manufactory in Calais as a result of the social unrest affecting business following the introduction of the factory system into the Nottingham lace and hosiery industries. The family moved to Paris the following year.

Landscape near Quilleboeuf, c. 1824–1825. (Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art)
PICTURED: The Bonington theatre and Arnold Leisure centre named after the famous Arnold-born painter (PHOTO: Gedling Eye)

Bonington learned the art of watercolor painting from Louis Francia, a native of Calais, who had worked for sixteen years in England; he studied at the studio of Baron Gros at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Paris, from 1819 to 1822, where he was taught precision drawing and developed a taste for coastal scenes.

In 1821 Bonington made an extended tour of Normandy in the company of a fellow student, Alexandre-Marie Colin, and exhibited his watercolors in Paris.

Bonington toured Belgium in 1823 and spent much of 1824 at Dunkirk, exhibiting his first oils that year.

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Bonington traveled in Italy for eleven weeks in 1826 with Baron Rivet, a wealthy patron, spending a month in Venice where he worked with feverish energy. The rest of his short life was taken up with handling a mounting pressure of work, much it commissioned, in the face of increasing weakness caused by tuberculosis.

Bonington made visits to London to see his dealers in 1827 and 1828, exhibiting at the Royal Academy of Arts in both years and first showing his courtly history subjects there and and at the Salon in 1828.

In late 1828 his tuberculosis worsened and his parents sent him back to London for treatment. Bonington died of the illness on September 231828 at 29 Tottenham Street in London, aged just 25. He was buried in the graveyard of St James’s Chapel Pentonville and in 1837 his remains were transferred to Kensal Green Cemetery in West London to be re-interred with his parents.

His legacy lives on…

A statue to him was erected outside the Nottingham School of Art by Watson Fothergill, and a theatre and primary school in Arnold are named after him. In addition, the house in which he was born (79 High Street, Arnold) is now named ‘Bonington House’ and is Grade II listed.

Delacroix paid tribute to Bonington’s talent was referenced in a letter written by French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix in 1861. He wrote “No one has possessed that lightness of touch which, especially in watercolours, makes [Bonington’s] works a type of diamond which flatters and ravishes the eye, independently of any subject and any imitation.”

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Richard Parkes Bonington – a proper Gedling borough legend

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