Today's Hours
Museum: Closed
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Today's Hours
Museum: Closed
Gardens: 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM
Bonheur, Rosa
(1822-1899)
Collection: European Collection
Specialties: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture
View Artwork
Rosa Bonheur was one of the most famous painters and sculptors of the 19th
century, receiving both critical and public acclaim for painting in the
style known as the "juste milieu", a middle ground that managed to
combine the innovations of the Barbizon painters with more traditional
genre and landscape conventions.

Rosalie, to be known as Rosa Bonheur, was born in Bordeaux on March 16,
1822. Her father, Raimond, was a minor artist and drawing master and her
mother a member of the minor gentility. After the July Revolution of 1830,
Raimond moved the family to Paris, and then left them in order to
participate in a monastic socialist utopian group. His wife Sophie gave
music lessons during the day and sewed piecework at night in order to
support herself and their 4 children. Rosa Bonheur was only eleven when
her mother died.

Fortunately for the family, Rosa 's paintings began selling almost
immediately. In 1840, when still only nineteen, she had two works accepted
for the Salon. From then until 1855, she was to have work in the Salon
every year. Impressed with the growing popularity of animal paintings and
sculpture, she began to study natural history and comparative anatomy in
order to render them more convincingly. Most of her early work was based
on a small menagerie her father allowed her to keep in their sixth floor
apartment. Though she only wore masculine apparel when working, that,
combined with her cigarette smoking and riding astride, made her subject
to speculation. An advocate of the writings of the feminist Flora Tristan
(Paul Gauguin's grandmother), she believed in women's right to
self-determination, using her career as an explanation for avoiding
marriage:

Art is an absorbent, - a tyrant. It demands heart, brain, soul, body,
the entireness of its votary. Nothing less will win its highest favor. I
wed art. It is my husband - my world - my life dream - the air I breathe.
I know nothing else - feel nothing else -think nothing else. My soul finds
in it the most complete satisfaction. I married art . . . What could I do
with any other husband?


By 1848, all of the Bonheur family except the young Juliette, who made her
debut in 1852, were exhibiting in the Paris Salon. That year Rosa received
a gold medal and a 3,000 franc commission from the French government to
produce a painting on the subject of ploughing. The result became one of
her best-known and reproduced paintings, "Ploughing in the Nivernais ".
Her father's death in 1849 freed her to establish her own household. She
purchased a new studio and invited her long-time companion Nathalie Micas
and Nathalie's mother to join her.

In 1852, she launched her masterpiece, "The Horse Fair"; it was a
sensation at the Salon of 1853 and the lithographic reproduction sold
phenomenally, not only in France, but also in England and the United
States. At the Exposition Universelle of 1855, Bonheur won a gold medal
for "Haymaking in the Auvergne ". In response to her international
success, she undertook a tour of England where an admiring press referred
to her as "the French Landseer".

During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the irrepressible Bonheur
attempted to get the mayor of By to allow her to organize a militia to
fight the Germans; though he denied her a command, she shouldered her gun
and drilled with the other men in the area until the Prussians took over
the area and billeted several officers at the Chateau. Even then, her
international reputation was such that Prince Friedrich of Prussia
provided a safe conduct for her and ordered that the Chateau was not to be
harmed.

Rosa remained popular to the end of her days. After her death from
pneumonia in 1899, a road through her beloved Forest of Fontainebleau was
named after her, and her surviving brother Isidore and her
brother-in-law/stepbrother sculpted a bull that stood in the forest as a
memorial to her.

Everl Adair, Director of Research and Rare Collections