BONNAT, Léon-Joseph-Florentin
(b. 1833, Bayonne, d.1922, Monchy-Saint-Éloi)


French portrait and history painter and teacher of several well-known artists.

From 1846 to 1853 Bonnat lived in Madrid, Spain, where his father owned a bookshop. In Madrid he received his artistic training under Federico Madrazo (1815-1894]. He later worked in Paris, and studied under Léon Cogniet (1794-1880]. His earlier works are religious paintings in which his study of Spanish Baroque art is evident. In Paris, he became known as a leading portraitist, never without a commission. His many portraits show the influence of Velázquez, Ribera and other Spanish masters, as well as Titian and Van Dyck, whose works he studied in the Prado.

His later and better-known portrait series of prominent Europeans and Americans was begun in 1875. In these he drew inspiration from Diego Velázquez and the Spanish realists. His subjects included Adolphe Thiers, Victor Hugo, Hippolyte Taine, Louis Pasteur, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and other contemporaries. He painted about 200 portraits, most of them featuring photographically accurate draftsmanship and subdued colouring.

In 1888 Bonnat became professor of painting at the École des Beaux-Arts, and he became its director in 1905. He was an influential teacher - his students included Thomas Eakins, Gustave Caillebotte, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec - and he ran a busy studio for more than three decades. His excellent and wide-ranging art collection is part of the Bonnat Museum in Bayonne.