|Biography: ||The portraitist William C. Bonnell was born in Clinton, New Jersey, the fourth child of Colonel Clement du Mont and Rachel Wolverton Bonnell. His grandfather served as a colonel during the American Revolution and owned a tavern that was the first place in the area where minutemen were recruited. Bonnell married Margaret Hinchman in 1836, and the couple had two children. Bonell belonged to the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in Grandin and was buried in the church’s graveyard. |
Bonnell, who painted in a non-academic linear style, is known to have produced approximately twenty portraits between 1823 and 1833, some of which vary so widely in style that it is difficult to believe that they were all painted by the same artist. He was primarily active in New Jersey but is known to have traveled to neighboring Warminster, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1833 to paint portraits of Andrew and Eliza Yerkes (Mercer Museum of the Bucks County Historical Society, Doylestown, Pennsylvania). He painted at least seven portraits of residents of Hunterdon County in 1825. Many of his likenesses are signed and dated in brown paint on the reverse. Tradition has it that he also painted a tavern sign for the Perryville Inn that is now owned by the Hunterdon County Historical Society in Flemington. The noted collectors of American folk art Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch acquired Bonnell’s portrait of his father Clement Bonnell (c. 1825) and presented it to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 1953.1 The Garbischs also presented three portraits of members of the Bonham family that Bonnell painted between March 4 and 5, 1825, to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1980.
1. See Deborah Chotner, Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn, American Naive Paintings, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art, Systematic Catalogue (Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1992), pp. 24–25; the Schwarz Gallery’s portrait is mentioned in n. 6, p. 25.
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