1822 – 1899 A.D.
Rosa Bonheur, a French artist, considered the most eminent woman painter of animals. She was the daughter of a drawing teacher who afterward became the director of the Free School of Design for girls, in Paris.
Her remarkable talent and repugnance to dressmaking, the avocation chosen for her by her father, finally moved him to place her in his own school, and she also studied under Cogniet; but it was mainly her own study of animals in their natural environments that developed her ability.
At the age of nineteen she first exhibited at the Salon Goats and Sheep and Two Rabbits, and until 1855 she was represented annually. Her first great picture, deemed by some her best, Ploughing in the Nivernais (1849), is now in the Luxembourg. In 1853 she exhibited the famous Horse Fair, which attracted widespread admiration. She offered it to her native town of Bordeaux for 15,000 francs, but the offer was not accepted, so she sold it in England for 40,000 francs, and it was finally purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for 268,000 francs.
After this work she stood at the head of delineators [sic] of animal life, showing a wonderful power of representing spirited action. Near her studio she had an ante-chamber as a stable for the convenient study of animals, of which she collected some noble specimens. She also attended horse markets and fairs,m and visited the abattoirs on the outskirts of Paris; finding the attentions of the workmen disagreeable, she adopted man’s attire, which was not becoming to her strong and marked features. In 1892 a celebrated painting by her, entitled Horses Threshing Corn, was sold for $60,000.
It is the largest animal picture ever painted, showing ten horses large as life. In 1896, on her seventy-fourth birthday, she finished a painting representing a combat between two stallions. She was awarded many medals and decorations during her long career, including the cross of the Legion of Honor, the first woman to achieve that distinction. The Emperor, Napoleon III, it is said, had been advised to confer his decoration upon her, but, willing as he certainly was, he hesitated, fearing the popular judgment, which might condemn the giving of this honor to a woman. Leaving Paris for a short summer excursion in 1865, he left the Empress Eugénie as Regent. One day, unannounced, the empress entered the studio, where Mlle. Rosa was at work. She rose to receive the visitor, who threw her arms about her neck and kissed her. It was only a short interview. The imperial vision had departed, the rumble of the carriage and the crack of the outriders’ whips were lost in the distance. Then, and not till then, did the artist discover that as the empress had given the kiss she had pinned upon her blouse the cross of the Legion of Honor.
As a painter, Rosa Bonheur showed a sound and wholesome feeling for nature, not only in the modeling of her animals and in her spirited representations of action, but also in the truthful landscape setting in which she placed her subjects.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.