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Hood Museum of Art
Dartmouth College
Hanover, NH 03755

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Jean-Claude Bonnefond, French, 1796-1860

A Farrier near a Forge
Oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Charles F. McGoughran, Class of 1920; P.961.245

Jean-Claude Bonnefond’s minutely detailed genre scene, recently restored to dazzling effect, continued a long-established trend in European art that celebrated the artist’s ability to simulate nature through the medium of oil paint. This style reached its pinnacle in early-nineteenth-century France in the work of Louis-Léopold Boilly, who usually focused on the daily life of the Parisian bourgeoisie. By choosing to depict a subject from the world of the rural working class, Bonnefond, a provincial artist from Lyon trying to establish his reputation in Paris, aligned himself with more avant-garde painters, such as Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix. 

A Farrier near a Forge—possibly Bonnefond’s masterpiece of genre painting—was exhibited at the 1822 Paris Salon, where it drew mixed reviews from critics. While one writer hailed it as “a little masterpiece, with its naive truth . . . and astonishing finish in the details,” another complained, “God, what harsh reality! How unfortunate that nature so well understood could be so laboriously rendered.”

Bonnefond’s genre painting followed a tradition dating back to at least the early seventeenth century, when Adrian Brouwer (1605/6-1638) painted Smith’s Forge (later reproduced in the eighteenth century in a mezzotint). According to David Solkin, this example served as the starting point for a series of five paintings executed by the English painter Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) between 1771 and 1773. There were many formal similarities between the various versions, such as the depiction of full-length blacksmiths and foundry workers seen from the rear and silhouetted against the light of the burning metal. However, compared to the Dutch precedent, Wright elevated his portrayals of the laborers to make them appear more as individuals working as a team with specialized skills. These were not images of brute strength and men deformed by the hazards of their trade but rather ironworkers proud of their abilities.

Similarly, Bonnefond shows the men working in a humble but organized setting. They are productive, industrious citizens transforming natural materials into useful, manmade objects—not unlike the artist of this painting.

Last Updated: 10/29/09