Coast Scene

Follower of Richard Parkes Bonington, English, 1802 - 1828

Made in England, Europe

c. 1828-1840

Oil on canvas

24 x 33 inches (61 x 83.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928

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Additional information:
  • PublicationBritish Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    A Coast Scene has traditionally been ascribed to Richard Parkes Bonington (1802-1828), but that attribution has been rejected by Marion Spencer, who points out that the overall effect is slightly "bitty," and that unlike Bonington, whose soft, clear colors are used to suggest the underlying structure of rocks, pilings, and the ripples on the calm sea, here in A Coast Scene these elements are treated in a thinner, more linear manner.1 Bonington, on the other hand, was already executing assured, delicate landscapes in watercolor by the time he left the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1822, studying under Baron Gros (1771-1835), and beginning to turn out his first oils, painted with a loaded brush in cool, clear tonalities, foretelling, as Marion Spencer points out, the early work of Corot (1796-1875). By 1823 his characteristic method in oil emerged: the precise sepia underdrawing with the forms then broadly handled in pure color. Bonington is the most elegant of landscape artists; technically assured from the very outset of his brief career, his art is precise, sensitive, but also an art of deep feeling. His works were painted mainly in the studio, yet they possess a wonderful freshness and vivacity. To these observations one might add that in this painting neither the horse nor rider is characteristic of Bonington, or in the correct proportions for their distance from the foreground group. The costumes worn by the figures are fanciful, not costumes worn by fisherfolk in Normandy; the upturned boats used as shelters are not features seen in genuine pictures by Bonington of certain Normandy setting. However, one might compare this picture to Bonington's Coast Scene in Picardy (c. 1826, oil on canvas, 26 1/8 x 39" {66.4 x 99 cm.}) in the Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston upon Hull, as the kind of work by Bonington that the artist here is seeking to imitate.

    A Coast Scene is not a copy but an independent work of art, executed after 1828 when a vogue in England for beach and coast scenes led to the attribution of a number of these pictures to Bonington. There is no necessity to assume either that this is a fake or that the artist had any direct link with Bonington, but rather it should be treated as a charming object in its own right, at the moment unattributed.

    In the Witt Library there is a photograph of a drawing for the right-hand side of the composition, which belonged in 1937 to Sir Hickman Bacon (Style of Richard Parkes Bonington, Seashore, after 1828, sepia ink on paper, 4 1/2x 7 1/2" {11.4 x 19 cm.}, Sir Hickman Bacon, Bart. Collection). The group of three foreground figures (clearly in the poses of models in a studio) are posed just as they appear in A Coast Scene, but the fishing boat behind these figures in the oil painting is placed further to the right, thus strengthening and tightening the composition. The boats at the right, upturned for shelters, appear in both compositions. The changes between drawing and painting once again underline the status of this painting as a work of art created through a conscious artistic process. We must also reject this drawing as by Bonington, for it is too diffuse, scratchy, and generally too weak to be by his hand. However, it is fair to assume that the artist who drew the sketch also painted A Coast Scene. According to an inscription on the verso of the drawing, it belonged until 1906 to the line engraver John Sadler (1813-1892), who as a boy worked for the noted engraver of Bonington's work George Cooke (1781-1834).

    The painting also belonged to a famous engraver, the mezzotinter Thomas Oldham Barlow, Royal Academician (1824-1889). As far as we know, A Coast Scene never passed through the salerooms before Barlow acquired it sometime before 1884, suggesting that it came to him privately. It is tempting to suggest that he may have found the picture through his connections with other engravers--even from John Sadler himself. Although it is difficult to attribute either the painting or the sketch, it may be that at some future date the artist will turn out to have been an engraver, or in some way connected with the engraving profession.

    Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 36-38.

    1. Letter, August 24, 1965, and letter to author, October 1, 1981, Accession file, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia.

    "Remarkable Art Sale: Gainsborough and Bonington,” Daily Telegraph, March 17, 1917; William Roberts.Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Formed by John H. McFadden, Esq., of Philadelphia, Pa. London, 1917, pp. 1-2, repro. opp. p. 95; William Roberts. "Recent Additions to Mr. McFadden's Collection." Art in America, vol. 6, no. 2 (February 1918), p. 117, p. 115 fig. 5; A. Dubuisson. Richard Parkes Bonington: His Life and Work. Translated by C. E. Hughes. London, 1924. pp. 198, 199, 202, repro. opp. P. 54; Hans Tietze, ed., Masterpieces of European Painting in America (London, 1939), p. 325, repro. p. 238; Andrew Shirley. Bonington. London, 1940, pp. 145-146.