If the names Bonington and Shotter Boys don’t ring any bells, you are not alone. Richard Parkes Bonington and Thomas Shotter Boys were both prolific artists of the late Regency period and, in my opinion, wonderful painters. Unlike Constable and Turner however, they are not commonly recognized names in the 21st century.
Richard Parkes Bonington was born in 1802 and he lived only twenty-six years. In those years his accomplishments and his output were astonishing. He required very little formal instruction; he was one of those born artists who simply know.
His family moved to Calais in 1816 and his career commenced there. He early mastered a luminous landscape style and excelled in both watercolours and oil. He was very interested in historical subjects, and many of his pencil sketches show an historical bent.
By 1827, Bonington was famous, and he was sick. His hectic work schedule and his extensive travels had worn him out, and he contracted tuberculosis. Throughout the following year he fought increasing weakness and continued his prodigious output. By September 1828 he was dead.
Thomas Shotter Boys was a friend and fellow artist of Bonington, a contemporary born in 1803. But unlike Bonington, he lived a long life, well into the Victorian era, dying in 1874.
Their careers intertwined when in 1823 or 24 Boys moved to Paris. Boys’ early instruction in art was not academic but gained during an apprenticeship to an engraver. That early training gave his work an attention to detail and draftsmanship that never disappeared. He worked mainly in watercolours, unlike Bonington, and in later years he became one of the chief developers of the process of lithography.
Bonington and Boys, along with Callow, Cooke and others, ranged Paris in the 1820s painting the same scenes and occasionally buying each other’s work. Boys, in about 1826, drew a pen and ink of the interior of Bonington’s studio in the Rue des Martyrs, Paris.
Despite his long life, Boys never achieved the fame and fortune that Bonington did in his few years. Boys died in poverty, but left a legacy of achievement in watercolour and lithography.
Neither artist is well known now; of the two Bonington is more widely recognized. I like Boys’ work a little better—something in his architectural approach to street scenes and his attention to detail appeal greatly to me.
I hope you will have the opportunity to explore their work—so alike, yet different. And I hope you will let me know which you prefer...
'Til next time,