Bonheur, Rosa (Marie Rosalie) (1822-1899) by Scholes, Robert

Bonheur, Rosa (Marie Rosalie) (1822 – 1899)

From a piece by Mariann Smith, for the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo: Rosa Bonheur was the most famous woman artist of the first three quarters of the nineteenth century. Although many women at this time were amateur artists, it was very unusual for a woman to pursue painting as a career. Also unusual was her family’s support in that endeavor. From age ten on, Bonheur spent hours sketching animals in parks on the outskirts of Paris; by age seventeen she was contributing to the family income by making copies of paintings in the Louvre. Since it was not possible for a woman to attend the official schools of art at this time (that right was not granted until 1897), her father, Raymond Bonheur—a landscape artist and teacher—served as her instructor. Rosa Bonheur was the first woman to receive a cross of the Legion of Honor in France, a reward for outstanding achievement in her field. The honor was bestowed upon her personally by the Empress Eugenie, wife of emperor Napoleon III, in June 1865. The empress wanted to show, as she said, that “genius has no sex.” She lived with other women openly and obtained official police permission (for medical reasons) to dress as a man. She specialized in animal paintings, dissecting animals as part of her research, and she liked to work on a large scale. Her most famous painting, “The Horse Fair”, is enormous. The Albright-Knox has a small study for this painting.

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