Paris-born Bonvin’s work was much admired in his day by artists and the public. He spent the early part of his career painting only in his spare time, while working as a clerk for the Paris police. Largely self-taught, he specialized in still-life and scenes of everyday life, inspired by Dutch seventeenth-century art. He was a friend of the French painter Gustave Courbet, who encouraged him to join the Realist movement. In 1870 he was made a chevalier of the Légion d'honneur. Bonvin encouraged and supported his fellow artists, including his half-brother Leon Bonvin.