Drawn to the everyday

Léon Bonvin (1834–1866)

from 8 October 2022 to 8 January 2023

Forty years after the only retrospective devoted to him on the other side of the Atlantic, the Fondation Custodia is organising a major exhibition dedicated to Léon Bonvin (1834–1866), an artist who is now rare and much sought after by the greatest museums and the most discerning amateurs.

On this occasion, the Fondation Custodia is publishing the catalogue raisonné of his entire oeuvre. The exhibition and the book shed new light on the life and art of Léon Bonvin. They reveal numerous yet unpublished works, scattered in public or private collections, mainly American and French.

Léon Bonvin did not enjoy the same notoriety as his half-brother, François (1817–1887), who was an esteemed realist painter in the 19th century. Few sources and accounts about his life have come down to us. Most were written just after his early death – and often in reaction to it – before the memory of his career and work faded. Forced to spend his days working in the family inn in Vaugirard, Léon Bonvin painted his watercolours far from the gaze of the Parisian artistic and cultural milieu.

  • Léon Bonvin (1834–1866), Still Life with Pomegranate, 1864
    Pen and brown ink, watercolour over traces of graphite and gum arabic. – 245 × 187 mm
    Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, inv. 37.1664
  • Léon Bonvin (1834–1866), Rose Bud in front of a Landscape, 1863
    Pen and brown ink, watercolour and gouache over traces of graphite and gum arabic. – 246 × 187 mm
    Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, inv. 37.1530
  • Léon Bonvin (1834–1866), Road in the Plain of Vaugirard, 1863
    Pen and brown ink, watercolour. – 212 × 162 mm
    Fondation Custodia, Collection Frits Lugt, Paris, inv. 2009-T.5

He drew his inspiration from his immediate environment: bouquets of wild flowers simply arranged in a glass, kitchen still lifes, views of the still rural and working class plain of Vaugirard. The sincerity with which he depicted the reality of his daily life led to an art of singular poetry. These intimate and truthful works will undoubtedly be a great discovery for the public of the Fondation Custodia.

Although the catalogue strives to be exhaustive, a choice of nearly seventy works by Léon Bonvin has been made for the exhibition. Nearly half of this selection comes from the important collection of The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, assembled during the artist’s lifetime by the American collector William Walters (1820–1894). A number of other works will also make the journey from the United States, where Léon Bonvin remains highly regarded. Closer to the Fondation Custodia, who owns six sheets of Bonvin, the Musée d’Orsay has a group of thirteen drawings by his hand. Private collectors have also shown their generosity by granting a variety of loans on this occasion.

At the same time, the Fondation Custodia will present an anthology of 19th century French drawings from its collections.