Photograph of Rosa Bonheur by André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri, c. 1863
16 March 1822
|Died||25 May 1899 (aged 77)|
|Known for||Painting, sculpture|
|Ploughing in the Nivernais, The Horse Fair|
Rosa Bonheur, born Marie-Rosalie Bonheur, (16 March 1822 – 25 May 1899) was a French artist, an animalière (painter of animals) and sculptor, known for her artistic realism. Her best-known paintings are Ploughing in the Nivernais, first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1848, and now at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, and The Horse Fair (in French: Le marché aux chevaux), which was exhibited at the Salon of 1853 (finished in 1855) and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. Bonheur was widely considered to be the most famous female painter during the nineteenth century.
Early development and artistic training
Bonheur was born on 16 March 1822 in Bordeaux, Gironde, the oldest child in a family of artists. Her mother was Sophie Bonheur (née Marquis), a piano teacher; she died when Rosa Bonheur was eleven. Her father was Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, a landscape and portrait painter who encouraged his daughter's artistic talents. Though of Jewish origin, the Bonheur family adhered to Saint-Simonianism, a Christian-socialist sect that promoted the education of women alongside men. Bonheur's siblings included the animal painters Auguste Bonheur and Juliette Bonheur and the animal sculptor Isidore Jules Bonheur. Francis Galton used the Bonheurs as an example of "Hereditary Genius" in his 1869 essay of the same title.
Bonheur moved to Paris in 1828 at the age of six with her mother and siblings, her father having gone ahead of them to establish a residence and income. By family accounts, she had been an unruly child and had a difficult time learning to read, though even before she could talk she would sketch for hours at a time with pencil and paper. Her mother taught her to read and write by asking her to choose and draw a different animal for each letter of the alphabet. The artist credits her love of drawing animals to these reading lessons with her mother.
At school she was often disruptive, and she was expelled from numerous schools. After a failed apprenticeship with a seamstress at the age of twelve, her father undertook to train her as a painter. Her father allowed her to pursue her interest in painting animals by bringing live animals to the family's studio for studying.
Following the traditional art school curriculum of the period, Bonheur began her training by copying images from drawing books and by sketching plaster models. As her training progressed, she made studies of domesticated animals, including horses, sheep, cows, goats, rabbits and other animals in the pastures on the perimeter of Paris, the open fields of Villiers near Levallois-Perret, and the still-wild Bois de Boulogne. At fourteen, she began to copy paintings at the Louvre. Among her favorite painters were Nicholas Poussin and Peter Paul Rubens, but she also copied the paintings of Paulus Potter, Frans Pourbus the Younger, Louis Léopold Robert, Salvatore Rosa and Karel Dujardin.
She studied animal anatomy and osteology in the abattoirs of Paris and by dissecting animals at the École nationale vétérinaire d'Alfort, the National Veterinary Institute in Paris. There she prepared detailed studies that she later used as references for her paintings and sculptures. During this period, she befriended father-and-son comparative anatomists and zoologists, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.
A French government commission led to Bonheur's first great success, Ploughing in the Nivernais, exhibited in 1849 and now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. Her most famous work, the monumental The Horse Fair, measured eight feet high by sixteen feet wide, and was completed in 1855. It depicts the horse market held in Paris, on the tree-lined boulevard de l’Hôpital, near the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, which is visible in the painting's background. There is a reduced version in the National Gallery in London. This work led to international fame and recognition; that same year she traveled to Scotland and met Queen Victoria en route, who admired Bonheur's work. In Scotland, she completed sketches for later works including Highland Shepherd, completed in 1859, and A Scottish Raid, completed in 1860. These pieces depicted a way of life in the Scottish highlands that had disappeared a century earlier, and they had enormous appeal to Victorian sensibilities.
Though she was more popular in England than in her native France, she was decorated with the French Legion of Honour by the Empress Eugénie in 1865, and was promoted to Officer of the order in 1894. She was the first female artist to be given this award.
Patronage and the market for her work
The art dealer Ernest Gambart (1814–1902) represented her; he brought Bonheur to the United Kingdom in 1855, and he purchased the reproduction rights to her work. Many engravings of Bonheur's work were created from reproductions by Charles George Lewis (1808–1880), one of the finest engravers of the day.
In 1859 her success enabled her to move to the Château de By near Fontainebleau, not far from Paris, where she lived for the rest of her life. She did consider rebuilding, and had pens for her animal models. The house is now a museum dedicated to her.
Personal life and legacy
Women were often only reluctantly educated as artists in Bonheur's day, and by becoming such a successful artist she helped to open doors to women artists that followed her.
Bonheur can be viewed as a "New Woman" of the 19th century; she was known for wearing men's clothing, but she attributed her choice of trousers to their practicality for working with animals (see Rational dress). In her romantic life, she was fairly openly a lesbian; she lived with her first partner, Nathalie Micas, for over 40 years until Micas' death, and later began a relationship with the American painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke. At a time when lesbian sex – particularly tribadism – was regarded as animalistic and deranged by most French officials, Bonheur's outspokenness about her personal life was groundbreaking.
In a world where gender expression was literally policed, Rosa Bonheur broke boundaries by deciding to wear pants, shirts and ties. She did not do this because she wanted to be a man, though she occasionally referred to herself as a grandson or brother when talking about her family; rather, Bonheur identified with the power and freedom reserved for men. Wearing men's clothing gave Bonheur a sense of identity in that it allowed her to openly show that she refused to conform to societies' social construction of the gender binary. It also broadcast her sexuality at a time where the lesbian stereotype consisted of women who cut their hair short, wore pants, and chain-smoked. Rosa Bonheur did all three. Bonheur never explicitly said she was a lesbian but her lifestyle and the way she talked about her female partners suggests this.
She had two female partners in her lifetime; the first, Nathalie Micas, Bonheur grew up with and then lived with for forty years and the second, Anna Klumpke, came into her life after the death of her first partner. Bonheur, while taking pleasure in activities usually reserved for men, such as hunting and smoking, viewed her womanhood as something far superior to anything a man could offer or experience. She viewed men as stupid and mentioned that the only males she had time or attention for were the bulls she painted.
Having chosen to never become an adjunct or appendage to a man in terms of painting, she decided she would be her own boss and that she could lean on herself and her female partners instead. She had her partners focus on the home life while she took on the role of breadwinner by focusing on her painting. Bonheur's legacy paved the way for other lesbian artists who didn't favour the life society laid out for them.
Bonheur died on 25 May 1899 at the age of 77, at Thomery (By), France. She was buried together with Nathalie Micas (1824 – June 24, 1889), her lifelong companion, at Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, and later Klumpke joined them. Many of her paintings, which had not previously been shown publicly, were sold at auction in Paris in 1900. One of her works, Monarchs of the Forest, sold at auction in 2008 for just over US$200,000.
With other realist 19th-century painters, Bonheur fell from fashion for much of the 20th century, and in 1978 a critic described Ploughing in the Nivernais as "entirely forgotten and rarely dragged out from oblivion"; that year it was part of a series of paintings sent to China by the French government for an exhibition titled "The French Landscape and Peasant, 1820–1905". Since then her reputation has revived somewhat.
The first biography of Rosa Bonheur was published in her lifetime: a pamphlet written by Eugène de Mirecourt, Les Contemporains: Rosa Bonheur, which appeared just after her Salon success with The Horse Fair in 1856. Bonheur later corrected and annotated this document.
The second account was written by Anna Klumpke, an American painter from Boston who met Bonheur in 1887 while serving as a translator for an American art collector. Klumpke became Bonheur's companion in the last year of Bonheur's life and was Bonheur's sole heir after her death. Klumpke's biography, published in 1909 as Rosa Bonheur: sa vie, son oeuvre, was translated in 1997 by Gretchen Van Slyke and published as Rosa Bonheur: The Artist's (Auto)biography, so-named because Klumpke had used Bonheur’s first-person voice.
The most authoritative work is Reminiscences of Rosa Bonheur, edited by Theodore Stanton (the son of Elizabeth Cady Stanton), and published simultaneously in London and New York in 1910. This volume includes numerous correspondences between Bonheur and her family and friends, which lends greater insight into the artist’s life and her views of the art world and her art-making practices.
As a mark of how well known and well thought of she was, the 1905 Women Painters of the World (assembled and edited by Walter Shaw Sparrow) was subtitled "from the time of Caterina Vigri, 1413–1463, to Rosa Bonheur and the present day".
Timeline of works
- Ploughing in the Nivernais, 1849
- The Horse Fair, 1852–55
- The Highland Shepherd, 1859
- A Family of Deer, 1865
- Changing meadows (Changement de pâturages), 1868
- Spanish muleteers crossing the Pyrenees (Muletiers espagnols traversent les Pyrénées), 1875
- Weaning the Calves, 1879
- Relay Hunting, 1887
- Portrait of William F. Cody, 1889
- The Monarch of the herd, 1868
Study of a Cow. Courtesy Figge Art Museum.
Study of a Dog, possibly 1860s, Princeton University Art Museum
Head of a Bull. Brooklyn Museum
Portrait de Col. William F. Cody
Rosa Bonheur, 1865, wearing the Legion of Honour
- Carol Strickland; John Boswell (2007). The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 83. ISBN 9780740768729.
- "Musée d'Orsay: Rosa Bonheur Labourage nivernais". musee-orsay.fr. 25 March 2009.
- Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Fair, Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Janson, H. W., Janson, Anthony F. History of Art. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers. 6th edition. ISBN 0-13-182895-9, page 674.
- Kuiper, Kathleen. "Rosa Bonheur", Encyclopædia Britannica Online, Retrieved 23 May 2015.
- Heather McPherson (2003). "Bonheur, (Marie-)Rosa". Bonheur, (Marie-)Rosa [Rosalie]. Grove Art Online. doi:10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T009871.
- Bus, Lawrence (24 May 2016). "The Realism of Rosa Bonheur". Jewish Currents. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
- Galton, Francis. Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into its Laws and Consequences. Second edition. (London: MacMillan and Co, 1892), p. 247. Original 1869.
- Mackay, James, The Animaliers, E.P. Dutton, Inc., New York, 1973
- Rosalia Shriver, Rosa Bonheur: With a Checklist of Works in American Collections (Philadelphia: Art Alliance Press, 1982) 2-12. (It must be said that, as a reference source this book is itself riddled with inaccuracies and mis-attributions but it accords with the consensus account on this matter.)
- Theodore Stanton, Reminiscences of Rosa Bonheur (New York: D. Appleton and company, 1910), Theodore Stanton, Reminiscences of Rosa Bonheur (London: Andrew Melrose, 1910).
- Gaze, Delia, ed. (1997). Dictionary of Women Artists. I. London and Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. pp. 288–291. ISBN 978-1-884964-21-3.
- Boime, Albert. "The Case of Rosa Bonheur: Why Should a Woman Want to be More Like a Man?", Art History v. 4, December 1981, p. 384-409.
- Wild Spirit: The Work of Rosa Bonheur by Jen Longshaw
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- "Rosa Bonheur: Labourage nivernais". Musée d'Orsay.
- "The Horse Fair at Albright Knox Gallery". Archived from the original on 25 June 2007. Retrieved 27 October 2018., sketch for the London version; the sketch for the New York version is in the Ludwig Nissen Foundation, see: C. Steckner, in: Bilder aus der Neuen und Alten Welt. Die Sammlung des Diamantenhändlers Ludwig Nissen, 1993, p. 142 and spaeth.net Archived 10 October 2004 at the Wayback Machine
- The Horse Fair, National Gallery
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- "Base Léonore, recensement des récipiendaires de la Légion d'honneur". culture.gouv.fr.
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- "Ernest Gambart". goodallartists.ca.
- Stanton, Theodore (1910). Reminiscences of Rosa Bonheur (with twenty-four full-page illustrations and fifteen line drawings in the text. A. Melrose. p. 64.
- Britta C. Dwyer, “Bridging the gap of difference: Anna Klumpke's “union” with Rosa Bonheur”, Out of context. (New York: Greenwood Press, 2004), p. 69-79.; Laurel Lampela, “Daring to be different: a look at three lesbian artists”, Art Education v.54 no. 2 (March 2001), p. 45-51. and Gretchen Van Slyke, “The sexual and textual politics of dress: Rosa Bonheur and her cross-dressing permits”, Nineteenth-Century French Studies v. 26 no. 3-4 (Spring/Summer 1998) p. 321-35.
- Janson: History of Art, page 929
- Blume, Mary; Tribune, International Herald (1997-10-04). "The Rise and Fall of Rosa Bonheur". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-14.
- Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. Gay histories and cultures. Vol. 2. Taylor & Francis. 2000. ISBN 9780815333548.
- Boime, Albert (December 1981). "The case of Rosa Bonheur: Why should a woman want to be more like a man?". Art History. 4 (4): 384–409. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8365.1981.tb00733.x.
- Van Slyke, Gretchen (January 1999). "Gynocentric matrimony: The fin‐de‐siécle alliance of Rosa Bonheur and Anna Klumpke". Nineteenth-Century Contexts. 20 (4): 489–502. doi:10.1080/08905499908583461. PMID 22039638.
- Lampela, Laurel (2001). "Daring to Be Different: A Look at Three Lesbian Artists". Art Education. 54 (2): 45–54. doi:10.1080/00043125.2001.11653441 (inactive 2019-03-15).
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. .
- Christie's. "Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822-1899)". christies.com.
- Muratova, Xenia (1978). "Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions: Paris and China". The Burlington Magazine. 120 (901): 257–60. JSTOR 879183.
- Eugène de Mirecourt, Les Contemporains: Rosa Bonheur (Paris: Gustave Havard, 15 Rue Guénégaud, 1856) 20.
- Anna Klumpke, Rosa Bonheur: Sa Vie, Son Oeuvre, (Paris: E. Flammarion, 1909), Anna Klumpke, Rosa Bonheur: The Artist's (Auto)Biography, trans. Gretchen Van Slyke (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998).
- Theodore Stanton, Reminiscences of Rosa Bonheur, (New York: D. Appleton and company, 1910), Theodore Stanton, Reminiscences of Rosa Bonheur, (London: Andrew Melrose, 1910).
- "Palette, Rosa Bonheur ^ Minneapolis Institute of Art". collections.artsmia.org. Retrieved 2018-03-24.
- "Le site du village de Thomery 77810". free.fr.
- Dore Ashton, Rosa Bonheur: A Life and a Legend. Illustrations and Captions by Denise Browne Harethe. New York: A Studio Book/The Viking Press, 1981 NYT Review
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Rosa Bonheur.|
- 20 paintings by or after Rosa Bonheur at the Art UK site
- Rosa Bonheur - Artcyclopedia search
- Rosa Bonheur - Rehs Galleries' biographical information and an image of her painting Couching Lion, 1872
- Rosa Bonheur Plowing in the Nivernais (1849). A video discussion about the painting from smarthistory.khanacademy.org
- A life without Compromise — Rosa Bonheur biography, artworks and writings on Trivium Art History
- Art and the empire city: New York, 1825-1861, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Bonheur (see index)
- "Bonheur, Rosa,--1822-1899." Library of Congress
- Rosa Bonheur in American public collections, on the French Sculpture Census website