Rosa (Marie Rosalie) Bonheur (1822 - 1899) was born March 16th 1822 in Bordeaux, France. She was the sister of Isidore Jules Bonheur and is widely acclaimed as an animal painter who was influenced by the work of the English artist Landseer. It is very unusual that at an early age she was enrolled in a small private school for boys and was the only girl there. She was expelled from school because of her unruly "tomboyish" behavior. She adopted the unusual custom of dressing in Men's clothing and forced herself in to the world of sculpture, which up until her time was considered to be a man's work. She even performed dissections of animals to gain the intimate knowledge of their muscle and bone structure as Barye and Fremiet were doing. She even went so far as to frequent the slaughter houses of Paris to view the animals in various states of processing. Her habit of dressing in waistcoat and trousers persisted throughout her lifetime and in fact she even obtained the permission of the Perfect of Police in Paris to dress so. On one occasion, while attired in a dress, she was arrested by a Gendarme who mistook her for a man masquerading as a woman.
Rosa Bonheur submitted her first painting to the Salon in 1841 at age of 19. The following year, 1842, she submitted her first sculpture, a terra-cotta of a Shorn Sheep Grazing. The 1843 Salon saw the plaster model of her Bull, which was later cast in bronze by her brother-in-law Peyrol. She was awarded a Third Class Medal at the 1843 Salon for her exhibit of three paintings and two sculptures and given a State Commission for a painting. She continued to exhibit her paintings, gaining enormous acclaim as an artist, but it wasn't until the 1848 Salon that she exhibited more sculpture where she entered two models and received the Gold Medal of the First Class. Only thirteen of her sculptural works survive and of those only seven were ever exhibited in her lifetime but her influence and vitality were far reaching. Her few bronze sculptures were not cast in large editions and are highly sought after by collectors today. She was thought to be romantically associated with Buffalo Bill Cody as well as Edward Landseer but she lived for 50 years with her life long friend and close companion Nathalie Micas. She was a great patron and example to the numerous young American women sculptors working and studying in Paris in the late 19th century. Her naturalism and realism in both painting and sculpture assured a world wide market for her work, which commanded high prices even during her lifetime. Rosa was patronized and befriended by Queen Victoria after her first visit to Scotland in 1853.
It is unfortunate that she was mostly dismissed by the art world in France during her lifetime but succeeded in gaining the respect of the rest of Europe, England and the United States where she sold most of her works. She left Paris in 1860 settling in the Forest of Fontaineblue where she was surrounded by her animals both domestic and some wild lions, bears and others until her death. 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 her later years she was presented with the Cross of an Officer of the Legion of Honor. Rosa Bonheur was a fiercely independent individual and an eccentric character in both person and dress. As was with the case with her brother's bronzes, her bronze sculpture was also cast by Hippolyte Peyrol and bear his foundry mark. She signed her bronzes Rosa B.
The life of Rosa Bonheur is well documented in the following books:
Rosa Bonheur by Bonnefon (1905)
Les Animaliers by Jane Horswell (1971)
Rosa Bonheur by Rosalia Shriver (1982)
The Animaliers by James Mackay (1973)
Animals in Bronze by Christopher Payne (1986)
Rosa Bonheur, sa via, son oeuvre by Klumke (1908)
Bronzes of the 19th Century by Pierre Kjellberg (1994)
Rosa Bonheur: Her life and work by R. Peyrol (1889)
A Concise History of Bronzes by George Savage (1968)
Dictionnaire des Peintres et Sculpteurs by E. Benezit (1966)
Dictionnaire de Sculpteurs de l'ecole Francaise by Stanaslas Lami (1914)
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