John   Wharlton   Bunney

(20 June 1828 - 23 September 1882)

Bunney was from London and by his early twenties was painting, exhibiting and selling as an amateur artist, while working in his family's stationery business. Late in 1855, he began attending evening art classes at London's Working Men's College and probably soon after took a new job as a clerk at John Ruskin's publishers Smith, Elder & Co. Bunney benefited from the art classes so much that he had left the publisher's employment by early 1859, and had become a professional artist, working as a drawing tutor and selling paintings.

At the college, Bunney had met John Ruskin, who was then its drawing master, and in 1859 and 1860, Ruskin sponsored Bunney's first two tours in Europe. It was again Ruskin's idea to send Bunney to Italy in 1863. Bunney and his wife lived first in Florence but they and their children moved to Venice in 1870. In Italy, Bunney received commissions from Ruskin for various projects, including the Guild of St George, but he remained independent of Ruskin and the Guild and fulfilled numerous commissions for other patrons.

John Wharlton Bunney was an English topographical and landscape artist of the nineteenth century. His father was a merchant captain whom Bunney, as a boy, accompanied on several voyages around the world. Bunney demonstrated a strong talent for drawing and draftsmanship from an early age. The young Bunney became a follower of John Ruskin; he studied under Ruskin at the Working Men's College soon after its founding in 1854, and later worked as a clerk for Smith, Elder & Co., Ruskin's publisher. Bunney was able to give up his clerical job and make his living by his art and art teaching by 1859; Ruskin commissioned him to execute a series of drawings in Italy and Switzerland.

Bunney married Elizabeth Fallon in 1863. The couple settled in Florence; they would have four children. Bunney worked for Ruskin's St. George's Company (later the Guild of St George) in northern Italy for the remainder of his life. In his career there, Bunney produced a noteworthy pictorial record of Italy in his era. Ruskin said that Bunney's work was "so faithful and careful as almost to enable the spectator to imagine himself on the spot." Bunney was a friend of many of the Pre-Raphaelites, especially William Holman Hunt.

From 1870 on, Bunney lived and painted in Venice. In 1876, Ruskin commissioned Bunney to paint a picture that included the entire western facade of St. Mark's Basilica; Bunney worked on this project through "six hundred early-morning sessions" spaced over six years. (Ruskin was campaigning to prevent a renovation of the west front of St. Mark's, and the painting was part of this effort.) One day during this period, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, no admirer of Ruskin (Whistler had bankrupted himself in an 1878 libel suit against Ruskin), reportedly sneaked up behind Bunney as Bunney worked, to stick a note to his back. The note read, "I am totally blind." Bunney, absorbed in his work, remained oblivious to Whistler's prank. The painting now hangs in the Ruskin Gallery in the Millennium Galleries in Sheffield. After Bunney's death in 1882, Ruskin started a memorial fund to benefit his widow and children. en.wikipedia

Ruskin employed John Wharlton Bunney, who labored for six hundred early-morning sessions on a depiction of St. Mark's. In Switzerland, in the 1880s, Ruskin was to commission drawings from such artists as Bunney, W. G. Collingwood, Albert Goodwin, and T. M. Rooke. [See "In the Alps with Ruskin and Bunney," Ruskin Newsletter, and T. M. Rooke: "Studios in Switzerland, July-October 1884."]

The Free Library: Mementoes of 19th-century Italy: American patronage of John Wharlton Bunney (1828-82). Link/Page Citation: The Free Library

BUNNEY (John Wharlton) See Catalogues. -- Subdiv. 1. -- London. -- Fine Art Society. Catalogue of... drawings of Venice, also a memoir of J. B., by A. Wedderburn, 1883.

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