Rosa Bonheur

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Rosa Bonheur with a Bull , by Édouard Louis Dubufe (1857)

Rosa Bonheur (born March 16, 1822 in Bordeaux , France , † May 25, 1899 in Thomery , France) was a French animal painter of naturalism or realism .

life and work

Rosa Bonheur came from a family of artists. She was the eldest of four children of the draftsman and landscape painter Raymond Bonheur and his wife Sophie Marquis. Her brother was the landscape painter Auguste Bonheur (1824-1884). She learned drawing and painting from her father and specialized in animal painting at an early age.

In contrast to many other contemporary female artists and contrary to the definition of social roles, she understood painting as a profession and determined her role, following the male model, based on her professional activity. In her day, women preferred to paint smaller animals such as birds and fish, but Bonheur focused on cattle and horses.

Official permission to wear men's clothing (1857)

The views of her father contributed to this self -image. As a supporter of the early socialist Saint-Simonist movement, men and women had the same skills and rights and declared that social progress was crucially dependent on the emancipation of women . In addition to her upbringing, the painter's self-image also included her artistic and economic successes. Linda Nochlin (2008) saw her as an exception in the male-dominated art world of the 19th century. As an emancipated homosexual woman, she was able to shape her life largely independently beyond the traditional role model.

In 1829 the family moved to Paris, where Bonheur was sent to a boys' school with her two brothers. After her mother's death in 1833, she worked temporarily in a tailor's shop and then helped a couple who were friends with the coloring. According to her father's request, she attended a girls' boarding school, from which she was released in 1835, at the age of 13, as difficult to bring up. Since then she has been working during the day in her father's studio while he was out as a drawing teacher. At this time, like her siblings, she was receiving drawing lessons from her father and copied works in the Louvre , among others by Nicolas Poussin , Salvator Rosa and the Dutch animal painter Paulus Potter .

The horse market (between 1852 and 1855)

Bonheur had been allowed to participate in the exhibitions at the Paris Salon since 1841 . She became known for her picture Bœufs et Taureaux, race du Cantal , which was shown in the Salon of 1848. This was followed by the picture Agriculture in Nevers in the salon of the next year (2011 in the Musée d'Orsay , Paris). The horse market in the Salon in 1853 made her famous. Queen Victoria had the picture privately shown at Windsor Castle in 1855 . Only then was it available again to the art dealer Ernest Gambart, who had acquired it for 40,000 francs. Ultimately, the North American railroad king, Cornelius Vanderbilt, acquired the painting that made her world famous and donated it to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art , where it is still located today. There are also several other versions.

Her gallery owner, the Belgian Ernest Gambart, organized a tour of England and Scotland in 1856 with the works of Bonheur and presented them not only to the Queen, but also to all important collectors. Bonheur brought back many sketches of new sheep and cattle breeds from this trip, as well as live animals for her menagerie in the backyard of her studio. She not only kept animals in the studio for her studies, but also observed animals in zoos and the surrounding forests, moved to a farm for a few months in 1845 to study cows, sheep and goats and worked - as often in men's clothing - at horse markets and in slaughterhouses. What was important to her was the naturalistic or realistic depiction beyond any idealization or belittling.

Photo in the park of her castle (1880s)
Anna Klumpke: Portrait of Rosa Bonheur (1898)

Bonheur was now considered one of the most important painters of her time and was not only artistically but also economically very successful. She mainly made animal portraits for wealthy clients in England and America. As more and more visitors flocked to her studio, she withdrew to a small castle, the Château de By on the edge of the Fontainebleau forest , which she and her friend and partner Nathalie Micas had bought with the proceeds of her painting. Her visitors there included Empress Eugénie , who presented her with the Legion of Honor Cross in 1865 . On May 5, 1894, Bonheur was the first woman ever to receive the Officer's Cross of the Legion of Honor. Bonheur has also received numerous international awards.

Bonheur's interest in big game grew increasingly. In 1880 Gambart gave her two circus lionesses, and she received wild horses from the USA. With a special permit, the sixty-seven-year-old painted the bison and mustangs at Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show at the 1889 Paris World's Fair . He used a portrait of Cody on horseback for self-promotion and thanked her for the advertisement by riding her wild horses on her country estate. Bonheur was inspired by Buffalo Bill's show for her picture Indians hunting bison .

In the last year of her life she befriended the American painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke , who she portrayed several times. Rosa Bonheur died in Paris at the age of 77 and was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery (Div. 74). In her will she had named Klumpke as her heir and administrator of the estate. In 1933 she gave numerous works by Rosa Bonheur to the French state, which can be seen in the Musée de l'Atelier de Rosa Bonheur at Château de By, where Bonheur worked for the last 40 years of her life. Klumpke wrote her biography (1909) in the first person .

Other works (selection)


  • Debra N. Mancoff: Women Who Changed Art. Prestel, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-7913-4732-5 , pp. 10-11, 26-27.
  • Christina Haberlik, Ira Diana Mazzoni : 50 classics - artists, painters, sculptors and photographers. Gerstenberg, Hildesheim 2002, ISBN 978-3-8067-2532-2 , pp. 72-77.
  • Christiane Weidemann, Petra Larass, Melanie Klier: 50 women artists you should know. Prestel, Munich 2008, ISBN 978-3-7913-3957-3 , pp. 62-63.
  • Dore Ashton: Rosa Bonheur: a life and a legend. New York, Viking Pr., 1981, ISBN 0-670-60813-0 .
  • Rosa Bonheur, selected works from American collections . Dallas, Texas, The Meadows Museum, 1989. ISBN 0-935937-05-6 .
  • Rosalia Shriver: Rosa Bonheur. (with a checklist of works in American collections). Philadelphia, Art Alliance Pr., 1982, ISBN 0-87982-037-3 .
  • Eduard Schmidt-Weissenfels: Rosa Bonheur. In: Biographical sketches and character novels. 2. Vol. Janke, Berlin 1862, p. 196 ff. ( ).
  • Editorial Board of Kaiser Verlag Klagenfurt: Great Women of World History, Klagenfurt 1987, p. 74 ff.
  • Gabriel P. Weisberg: Rosa Bonheur - all nature's children. Exhibition catalog, Univ. Washington Press, 1998, ISBN 0-9654793-1-5 .
  • Anna Klumpke: Rosa Bonheur: The Artist's (Auto) Biography. Univ. Michigan Press, ISBN 0-472-08842-4 , 1997, French original 1909.
  • Theodore Stanton: Rosa Bonheur. A picture of life . Edgar Thamm publisher, Halle adS, 1914, American original from 1910.

Web links

Commons : Rosa Bonheur  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Linda Nochlin: Women in Art. We had to reinvent art history. Interview, questions from Julia Voss, FAZ net, April 14, 2008, accessed on March 12, 2016.
  2. ^ Stéphane Guégan: Painting. Musée d'Orsay. SIKRA, Paris 2011, ISBN 978-2-08-126666-7 .
  3. Christina Haberlik, Ira Diana Mazzoni : 50 Classics - Artists, Painters, Sculptors and Photographers. Gerstenberg, Hildesheim 2002, ISBN 978-3-8067-2532-2 , p. 74.
  4. Editorial Board of Kaiser Verlag Klagenfurt, 1987: Great women of world history. P. 74.
  5. ^ The Horse Fair ( Memento June 25, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), Albright Knox Gallery, sketch for the London version; the sketch of the New York version from 1852 is in the Nordfriesisches Museum. Nissenhaus Husum , see: C. Steckner, in: Pictures from the New and Old World. The collection of the diamond dealer Ludwig Nissen, 1993, p. 142, Bonheur, Rosa 1822–1899 ( Memento of October 10, 2004 in the Internet Archive ) Another version from 1855 was in the National Gallery in London at the end of the 19th century ( Oil on canvas, 120 × 254 cm).
  6. Rosa Bonheur on the website of the Legion of Honor.
  7. Christina Haberlik, Ira Diana Mazzoni : 50 Classics - Artists, Painters, Sculptors and Photographers. Gerstenberg, Hildesheim 2002, ISBN 978-3-8067-2532-2 , p. 76.
  8. ^ Kathleen Adler: Americans in Paris, 1860-1900. National Gallery, London 2006, p. 248.
  9. Le musée de Rosa Bonheur , accessed on March 12, 2016.
  10. ^ Anna Klumpke: Rosa Bonheur: sa vie, son oeuvre , 1909.