William C. Bonnell, a Hunterdon County, New Jersey, portrait painter, was born on 1 February 1804 in the town of Clinton. He was the fourth child and second son of Colonel Clement du Mont and Rachel (Wolverton) Bonnell, and the grandson of the Revolutionary War Colonel Abraham Bonnell. Abraham was the proprietor of the Bonnell Tavern, the first place in the region where minutemen were recruited. This tavern was inherited and operated by Clement, who left it to William. It remains in the Bonnell family.
On 9 June 1836 William married Margaret Hinchman (1813-1901); they had two children. The Bonnells belonged to the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in the nearby town of Grandin, and when William died on 12 October 1865, he was buried in the church graveyard.
The only records of William's career as an artist are the approximately twenty paintings that have been discovered to date. Many are inscribed on the reverse in large handwriting with his name and the date, and some include the name of the sitter. Chustetunk's Frosty Ferris, an unsigned picture of a hunting dog, is thought to be one of his earliest efforts. The first signed and dated works are companion portraits from 1823. A tavern sign from the Perryville Inn, with a portrait of Andrew Jackson on one side and an American flag on the other, is believed by tradition to have been painted by Bonnell, but he is not known to have painted other signs. In 1825 Bonnell painted at least seven likenesses of Hunterdon County residents. These vary widely in style.
At least once Bonnell traveled across the New Jersey border into Pennsylvania, perhaps in search of portrait commissions. In 1833 he painted a pair of portraits of Andrew and Eliza Everhart Yerkes, who owned a farm in Warminster, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. 1833 is the last known date of Bonnell's activity as a painter. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Dutcher, G. T. "Joseph Kamm." Americana (American Historical Magazine 18 (1924): 466-468.
"Bonnell Tavern." In A History of Union Township Hunterdon County Written by Members of the Bicentennial Committee. Union, New Jersey, 1976: unpaginated.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 24-25.