Biography of Léon Bonnat (1833-1922)

French painter, born in Bayonne on June 20, 1833 and died, affected by throat cancer, on September 8, 1922 in Monchy-Saint-Éloi. He/She obtained great success within the artistic scene of his time as a representative of the naturalistic portrait of society.

He began his artistic training in Spain, where he/she studied under the tutelage of the painters Jean Jaques David and José de Madrazo. Back in France, he/she entered the school of fine arts in 1854, while he/she joined the workshop of the master León Cogniet (1794-1880). It was presented on various occasions to the Prix de Rome, painting that has competition, apart from the public recognition, with a pension which allowed the winner to a stay in the Italian capital. Only on the third occasion that presented to the competition he/she received a second prize, but thanks to the support of the Council of his hometown, Bayonne, are you guaranteed a pension which allowed him to move to Rome where he/she remained until 1861.

Belonging to the work produced in Rome, he/she referred to the Salon of 1861, a work of religious themes, the good Samaritan, who was immediately acquired by the State. This sale was the first triumph of his brilliant career, full of success and public recognition, whose climax was his appointment as director of the Villa Medici. After exposing the portrait of Monsieur Thiers in the Universal Exposition of 1878, his career was enhanced to the point of achieving great fame as a portraitist. Public recognition of his work was that it was proposed to be awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of honour in 1900.

His success as a portraitist of characters of the third Republic earned him a large fortune, part of which invested in the acquisition of works of art, especially paintings and drawings by old masters. Shortly before his death in September 1922 in the castle of Monchy-Saint-Éloi, suffering from throat cancer, bequeathed his impressive collection of paintings and drawings by old masters to the Museum of Bayonne.

His early works are religious themed and they are clearly influenced by the Spanish paintings from the 17TH - who knew deeply during your stay in Spain-, a good example is the work presented at the Salon of 1861 the good Samaritan, where he/she combined the tenebrist influence of Spanish painting with a character almost photographic realism. Also the Christ on the cross and the martyrdom of San Dionisio follow this line. But the part of his production which was most successful and benefit was his activity as a portrait painter, especially of the important characters of the third Republic, the majority of whom posed for him.

Its realistic treatment of the portrait gave him the favour of the public. Bonnat also worked as a teacher, practice in which demonstrated so tuned, as for the execution of his portraits. He/She had among his students painters such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec i Braque.

Along with Emile Auguste Carolus Duran (1838-1917), León Bonnat was the representative of the naturalistic portrait of society.


CABANNE, Pierre. History of French painting (Paris).