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Rosa Marie (Rosalie) Bonheur

 (1822 - 1899)
Rosa Marie (Rosalie) Bonheur was active/lived in United States, France.  Rosa Bonheur is known for animal and western painting.

Rosa Marie (Rosalie) Bonheur

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Biography from the Archives of askART

The daughter of an impoverished French painter, Raimond Oscar-Marie Bonheur, Rosa Bonheur was a famous 19th-century female artist known for her depiction of horses and for her eccentric lifestyle including dressing like a man and sketching at the Paris slaughterhouse. 

Her work in realist style, eclipsed by modernism, fell into obscurity during much of the 20th century.

Rosa Bonheur spent her life in France but became associated with the American West as a collector of pictures of figures and animals associated with the frontier.   She also had a set of prints of Native Americans depicted by George Catlin, Indian painter, and some of these she copied in later years.   When Buffalo Bill Cody began appearances in Paris in 1889, she became a frequent visitor to his Wild West Show and made numerous sketches, with his permission, of persons and animals in the show.  She also did a full-length portrait of Cody, which she presented to him, and into her later years, continued to do paintings of the American West with titles such as Buffalo Hunt, Indians Pursuing Wild Horses and Wyoming Stallion.

Bonheur grew up in Bordeaux and Paris and began earning money at age 12 as a painter of heraldic designs for family and friends.    She had no formal art training, although she studied with her father, assisted him as a teacher in his drawing school, and copied Old Masters at the Louvre.   When her father died in 1849, she and her sister, Juliette, ran the school until 1860.   That year, the sisters bought a chateau in the Forest of Fontainebleu, and calling it Chateau de By, it remained the primary home of Rosa and her life-long companion, Nathalie Micas.   Many animals lived on the premises including boars, stags, horses, oxen and lions.

She began sketching horses at the Paris horse market at the Boulevard de l'e Hospital and her greatest success came at the Paris Salon of 1853 with her entry, The Horse Fair.  By the end of her career, she had nearly 50 entries in the Salon, many of them animal subjects.

Among the honors she received for her work was a gold medal in 1855 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, a ribbon in 1865 of the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur from Empress Eugenie, and honorary membership in the Royal Academy of Watercolorists of London in 1885.

Bonheur died at Fontainebleau at age 77 from pulmonary influenza.

Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki Kovinick, An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West, p. 24


Biography from the Archives of askART

Rosa Bonheur was born in 1822 the eldest child of the portraitist, Raymond Bonheur. He was a man who in his native Bordeaux had been known as the "Angel Gabriel" for his blonde good looks.  Her mother was a gentle young woman, brought up to enjoy art, music and the agreeable society of a provincial city.  But after a few years she found herself sewing by candlelight to scratch out a few sous for a household of four children. She died while still a young woman and was buried in a pauper's grave, a fact which haunted Rosa all her life.   

Bonheur exhibited regularly at the Paris Salon from 1841, where her pictures of lions, tigers, wolves, etc. were soon very popular.  But she was most famous for her depictions of horses. She began sketching them at the Paris horse market.   

As an aspiring artist, she had taken to visiting the Paris abbatoirs to work on anatomical studies.  At that time she dressed in trousers and ample blouses.  Exquisite patent leather boots were her only touch of vanity.  On formal occasions she donned voluminous skirts with a matching Breton-style jacket, an outfit that sorely disappointed Empress Eugenie on her first visit, when she hoped to see the artist in the clothing that was part of her legend.   

Bonheur was the first woman to receive the medal of Officeur de la Legion d"Honneur, which was personally presented to her at her chateau by Empress Eugenie. She found her warmest admirers in America. She was unlike most women of the period; she had short snow-white hair and wore a workingman's smock and black velvet trousers. Strong-willed and courageous, she defied the conventions of her time. She smoked - cigars, cigarettes, a pipe. She cut her hair; when she rode a horse, she mounted astride. She died in 1899.   

Written and compiled by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California.

Sources include:   
Metropolitan Minatures: Women Artists   
Oxford Companion to Art, edited by Harold Osborne   

Biography from the Archives of askART
Marie Rosalie ( Rosa )  Bonheur (1822-1899)
Rosa Bonheur, ( the "Landseer" of  France ), was born in Bordeaux, France on 3/16/1822 and died at Melun, ( Seine-et-Marne ), France on 5/25/1899. Considered one of the most famous 19th century women painters, she is also included among the elite Animalier school of sculptors.

She began drawing animals as a young child - initially with her mother in helping her to learn to read. In 1828, her family moved to Paris where she first studied painting under her father and subsequently with L`eon Cogniet.  In addition to studying animals in their natural habitat, her in-depth studies of animal anatomy by dissections at the Parisian stockyards were the basis of her success as an animal artist of the Realism school.  She was dedicated to basic realism, not "humanized", portraying animals precisely as they live in nature.

Rosa submitted her first painting to the Paris Salon in 1841, and her first sculpture in 1842 entitled, Shorn Sheep Grazing.  She was awarded a Third Class Medal at the Salon in 1843, for three paintings and two sculptures.  Rosa received the Gold Medal at the Salon in 1848, when her painting Ploughing in the Nivernais was first exhibited, which is currently at the Mus`ee d' Orsay in Paris. She was warmly embraced by both the French and English royalty.
The majority of her sculptures were modeled prior to 1845. Of the thirteen known sculptures, only seven were exhibited during her lifetime. Very limited editions of her sculptures were cast, all by her brother-in-law at his Hippolyte Peyrol foundry.  
Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, copyright 1948
Bronze Sculpture of "Les Animaliers", copyright 1971, by Jane Horswell
Dr. Dave Welch, art historian, retired Assistant Professor Northwestern University, Chicago, IL.

Biography from The Cambridge Art Gallery
Rosa Bonheur (nee Marie-Rosalie Bonheur) was born on the 16th of March, 1822 in Bordeaux, France.  Her father, Oscar-Raymond Bonheur (1796-1849), was a trained painter, and taught the fundamentals of art to Rosa and her brothers Auguste and Isidore, and sister Juliette.  All four siblings pursued careers as artists, and Isidore (1827-1901) gained acclaim as a sculptor, but Rosa would prove to be the most successful of the Bonheurs.

Her father was an important influence both, socially and artistically, and she was later quoted as saying of him, "To his doctrines I owe my great and glorious ambition for the sex to which I proudly belong and whose independence I shall defend until my dying day." 

Bonheur was distinguished from other artists of her times in many ways. It was very unusual for a woman to pursue art as a career, but her exceptional talent, fierce determination, and the support of her family were instrumental in her success and eventual fame.  From an early age, Bonheur was intrigued by the study and form of the farm animals in her rural hometown.  As she grew older, Bonheur honed her technique by studying and copying paintings in the Louvre.  In her later career, she was known for attending horse fairs, slaughterhouses, and even participating in dissections, to the gain the most thorough and realistic understanding of animal anatomy.

Her exceptional attention to detail and form made her a favourite in the realist and naturalist schools.  Bonheur's painstaking method of making art involved several sketches and studies.  This technique was a classical and meticulous approach. Bonheur's artwork was conservative and well received.  Bonheur's first painting appeared in the Paris Salon in 1841.  The next two years, she had her first sculpture, of a sheep, and her second sculpture, of a bull, exhibited in the Salon.  She exhibited three paintings and two sculptures at the 1843 Salon, and was awarded with a Third Class Medal a State Commission for a painting.  She continued to exhibit her paintings, gaining more accolades, and in the 1848 Salon she exhibited two more sculptures, winning her the Gold Medal of the First Class.

Her acclaim spread internationally with the wide exhibition and praise of her 1853 painting The Horse Fair.  Her lifestyle, in contrast to her artwork, was very unconventional and at times garnered as much attention as the work itself.  Bonheur distinguished herself from her contemporaries by dressing in men's clothing (with an express license to do so granted by the police), refusing to marry, and in later life keeping a menagerie of personal pets rumored to include gazelles, a stag, and even a lion and lioness.  As her fame grew, Bonheur continually became more reclusive, eventually retreating to an estate near Fontainebleau with her life-long companion, Nathalie Micas (d. 1889), and after Micas' death, American painter Anna Klumpke (1856-1942).

Her exhibits and awards include the Great Exhibit of London in 1862, the Paris Exposition Universelle 1867, and the Chicago Words Colombian Exposition in 1893.  In 1865 she became the first woman to be presented with a cross of the Legion of Honour.  The wife of emperor Napoleon III, Empress Eugenie, bestowed the honor upon her personally.  The empress did this to show, in her words, that "genius has no sex."

Museum Collections: The Louvre, Paris, France Museé Condé, Chantilly, France Musée National du Château, Fontainebleau, France Musée Ingres, Montauban, France Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, France Musée de l'Ancien Evêché, Evreux, France Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, California Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Michigan Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California de Young Museum, San Francisco, California Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, Minnesota National Gallery, London, United Kingdom The Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio Dahesh Museum, New York City, New York National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson Hole, Wyoming National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, District of Columbia Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, New Hampshire

Biography from Schiller & Bodo European Paintings
Although she was one of the most celebrated animal painters in France during the Second Empire, Rosa Bonheur's renown was more widespread in Britain and America than in her own country.  Her fame rested primarily on several large works executed early in her career.  Her father, Raymond Bonheur, a social radical, painted portraits and landscapes and taught drawing in Bordeaux.  All five of his children became artists as well.  In 1828 Raymond Bonheur moved to Paris to further his career and was followed there by his family the next year.

Rosa proved precocious and began to study with her father at an early age. She sketched in the Paris parks, copied Old Masters in the Louvre and studied animal anatomy in the Roule slaughterhouse, where she first adopted male attire for its greater convenience.  After exhibiting a painting of two rabbits and one of goats and sheep at the 1841 Salon, she continued to participate in the salons throughout the decade, winning many medals.  Her Ploughing in the Nivernais, commissioned by the State in 1848, entered the Luxembourg Museum in 1849, the year she succeeded her father as director of the Paris Free School of Design for Young Girls. 

Her early travels included the Auvergne, southern France, the Pyrenees and Germany.  About 1852, work commenced on The Horse Fair (Metropolitan Museum), which was shown at the 1853 Salon at which the artist was exempted from further competition by special decree. This enormous painting of rearing and thrashing horses at the Paris Horse Market, which remained unsurpassed in her work for grandeur of composition and directness of observation, was eventually purchased by Ernest Gambart, who featured it in the 1855 French Exhibition in his Pall Mall Gallery in London.  The following year Gambart conducted Rosa Bonheur on a triumphal tour of England and Scotland, during which she was befriended by Queen Victoria and met Sir E. H. Landseer, whose pictures of animals she had previously known only through engravings.

After exhibiting in 1855 Haymaking in the Auvergne, also acquired by the Luxembourg Museum, she ceased almost entirely to enter works in the salons, although she was represented in the 1867 Exposition Universelle by nine works, including Sheep by the Sea belonging to the Empress Eugenie.  In 1858-59, Rosa Bonheur bought a chateau in the hamlet of By, near Fontainebleau, which provided her with adequate space for the large menagerie of animals that she used as models. There she remained with her constant companion, the still life painter Nathalie Micas, producing her animal subjects, many of which were sold abroad through her dealer Gambart.

Late in her career she turned to American western subjects, inspired by the 1889 visit to France of Colonel William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) and his traveling show. Among her many awards was the Cross of the Legion of Honor presented to her personally in her studio by the Empress Eugenie, membership in the Antwerp Institute offered in 1868, the Leopold Cross, and the Commander's Cross of the Royal Order of Isabella the Catholic, both presented in 1880, and elevation in 1894 to the rank of Officer of the Legion on Honor.

Biography from Red Fox Fine Art
Rosa Bonheur was born in Bordeaux, France, on 22 March, 1822. She was the eldest of a family of four artists, of whom her brother Isidore was best known. Her father, Raymond Bonheur, was a drawing master, with whom she studied in Paris; she also studied with Leon Cogniet and sketched at the Paris Zoo and at slaughterhouses on the outskirts of the city.

She was primarily a painter, but was also known for her animalier sculpture, of which at least seven models were cast in bronze by her brother-in-law, the well-known founder Hippolyte Peyrol. She began exhibiting at the Paris Salon in 1841, showing drawings of rabbits and sheep in that year. In 1845 she received a third class medal, then a gold medal in 1865. She and her companion, Nathalie Micus, moved to By, near Fontainebleau, in 1859, where she lived for the remainder of her life; Micus died in 1889, after which Bonheur did little work. In 1893 she was created an Officer of the Legion of Honor.

Bonheur died at By, France, in 1899.

Forrest, Michael. Art Bronzes. Atglen, PA: Schiffer, Publishing Ltd., 1988.

Graves, Algernon. The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and Their Work, from Its Foundation in 1796 to 1904. London, UK: S. R. Publishers, 1970 (reissue).

Hook, Philip and Poltimore, Mark. Popular 19th Century Painting - A Dictonary of European Genre Painters. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK:The Antique Collectors' Club, 1986.

Horswell, Jane. Les Animaliers: Reference and Price Guide.Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Antique Collectors' Club, 1971.

Johnson, J. and A. Greutzner. The Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Antique Collectors' Club, 1976.

Kjellberg, Pierre. Bronzes of the 19th Century. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing LTD, 1994.

Mackay, James. The Animaliers-A Collector's Guide to the Animal Sculptors of the 19th & 20th Centuries. Toronto, Canada: Clarke, Irwin & Company, 1973.

Payne, Christopher. Animals in Bronze: Reference and Price Guide. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: The Antique Collectors' Club, 1986.

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About  Rosa Marie (Rosalie) Bonheur

Born:  1822 - Bordeaux, France
Died:   1899 - Fontainebleau, France
Known for:  animal and western painting

Essays referring to
Rosa Marie (Rosalie) Bonheur

Women Artists