William Bonnar

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Portrait of George Meikle Kemp, 1840. Now at the National Gallery of Scotland.
The surgeon Thomas Turner by William Bonnar

William Bonnar (1800 - 1853) was a Scottish painter of portraits, history, and genre in the 19th century.


He was born at Edinburgh in 1800. His father was Thomas Bonnar a house-painter and interior designer of considerable skill, and the son, having from his early years evinced a remarkable aptitude for drawing, was apprenticed to one of the leading decorators of the time. When George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822, Bonnar assisted David Roberts in decorating the assembly rooms for the grand state ball which was given in honour of the occasion. Shortly afterwards some signboards painted by him attracted the notice of Captain Basil Hall, who sought out and encouraged the young artist. In the year 1824 his picture of 'The Tinkers ' established him as a favourite with the public, and shortly after the formation of the Royal Scottish Academy (in 1830) he was elected one of the members.

In 1833 his address is given as Robb's Court (off the Canongate).[1]

Bonnar died at Edinburgh in 1853 and is buried in St Cuthberts kirkyard in Edinburgh. His monument is almost identical in execution to that of his father in Dean Cemetery who had died only a few years earlier, and is therefore presumed to be by David Watson Stevenson. Both his sister Elizabeth and his daughter Elizabeth are buried elsewhere in the graveyard, both in the Kemp grave. William's sister, Elizabeth Bonnar (1808-1889) married George Meikle Kemp. He named his daughter Elizabeth (1826-1879) after his sister.

He left behind him many fine pictures, several of which were engraved by his younger brother, Thomas Bonnar (1810-1873).[2]

Bonnar is often credited with overseeing the completion of the Scott Monument following the untimely death of his brother-in-law, George Meikle Kemp who had designed the monument and was overseeing its completion when he died in an accident. If true, William would be an odd choice, as one of the few non-architects in the family.


William Bonnar's grave, St Cuthberts, Edinburgh

Bonnar has several works within the National Gallery of Scotland.[3]



  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainBryan, Michael (1886). "Bonnar, William". In Graves, Robert Edmund. Bryan's Dictionary of Painters and Engravers (A–K). I (3rd ed.). London: George Bell & Sons.