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Art in Scotland
William Bonnar


WILLIAM BONNAR, R.S.A.
Born, 1800; died, 1853.

BONNAR was a native of Edinburgh, the son of a well-known decorator and house-painter, whose business is still existing, which trade he followed till about his twenty-fourth year, when, having shown indications of a higher talent than that which was required in the practice of his ordinary work, he took to art as a profession. Two years previous to this he had assisted David Roberts in decorating the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms, preparatory to the State ball given on the occasion of the visit of George IV. to Edinburgh, and soon afterwards made some attempts at small pictures, which were so far successful that he was induced to follow the advice of the well- known Captain Basil Hall, whose notice was attracted by some of his sign-boards. His first important picture was the Tinkers, painted in 1824, six years after which he was elected an Academician of the Scottish Academy, subsequent to the union of the artists who had seceded from the Royal Institution. For several years he had a reputation for scenes from Scottish poetry and pastoral life, but soon abandoned such subjects for the more lucrative profession of a portrait-painter, which he successfully pursued till his death. He was a fairly successful etcher of old ballad and domestic subjects, although comparatively unknown as such, and several of his pictures have been engraved. His most important picture was John Knox administering the Sacrament, a large work, well drawn and good in colour, although rather dark and brown in tone.' The general style of his work was based upon that of Wilkie, but very much more loose and sketchy, in point of execution not unlike the elder Fraser.

He cannot be said to have possessed the qualities of art necessary to success in the class of subject-pictures which he sometimes attempted. Besides not possessing much power or originality of conception and expression, his pictures were often hurt by a crudeness of colour. He was a regular contributor to the exhibitions of the Royal Scottish Academy, and had a younger brother named Thomas, who was a good painter of domestic subjects. Two of William's portraits, of small size, in the Scottish National Gallery, represent his style of work—one of himself and the other of Kemp the architect, the former of which is rather dark in colour, owing to the too free use of asphaltum, which has ruined so many Scottish pictures of that period.


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