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Marierie-Rosalie Bonheur (1822-1899), known as Rosa Bonheur, had the great good fortune of being born to an artistic (and rather eccentric) couple. Her father, an artist and art teacher himself, gave art lessons toRosa, as well as her brothers and sisters (all of whom became artists). The family was raised on their semi-rural property on the outskirts ofParis.
Rosa exhibited at the Paris Salon for the first time in 1841.Rosa’s fascination with, and meticulous rendering of animals fit in perfectly with Realism and popular trends in nature studies. Within a decade,Rosa’s work reached great popularity. Her brisk sales were partly due to the fact that everyone had heard of her: she earned a living as an artist, won awards, smoked in public, wore overalls (needing a special license to do so), and visited slaughterhouses to study animal anatomy.
Before long, she was laden with honors, accumulating medals from exhibitions all over the world. She was the first woman to earn France’s esteemed Légion d’honneur. In 1853 two of her paintings, Ploughing in Nivernais (Paris, Musee d’Orsay) and The Horse Fair (New York, Metropolitan Museum; another version London, National Gallery), were tremendously successful and were reproduced internationally in numerous artistic reviews.
Between 1845 and 1850, Rosa Bonheur traveled through France in search of picturesque motifs, visiting the Auvergne, the Nivernais and the Vendee, as well as the Landes and the Pyrenees, where she returned every year from 1849 to 1853. Art dealers and private collectors sought her work. The demand for her compositions became so great that after 1855 Bonheur no longer participated in the Salon exhibitions inFrance, preferring instead to independently devote her career to her newly found private patrons. Her close friendship with QueenVictoriaofEnglandalso won her many aristocratic collectors inEnglandandScotland.
Though she is best known for being one of the most faithful animaliers (painters of animals) to ever hold a brush, Rosa also worked in sculpture, casting bronzes (of animals, of course) early in her career. Today she is also revered for being an outspoken feminist, and gaining female visual artists more equal status. Her nonconformity was unheard of in 19th centuryParis but, because she was so successful and independently wealthy, she forced many to reconsider the “role” of women artists.
- Metropolitan Museum of Art
- Musee d’Orsay, Paris
- Hermitage Museum, Leningrad
- National Gallery, London
- Art Institute of Chicago
- Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington
- Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
- Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL
- Ann Arbor Museum of Art,
- Columbus Museum of Art
- Royal Pavilion, Brighton, Great Britain
- Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY
- Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
- Wallace Collection, London
- Grobet-Labadie Museum, Marseille,
- Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA
- Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ
- Bringham Young University Fine Art Collection, Provo, UT
- Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, WA
- Walters Museum, Baltimore
- Musee de Bordeaux
- Musee de Grenoble