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Artists Rosa Bonheur
Rosa Bonheur Photo

Rosa Bonheur

French Painter and Sculptor

Movements and Styles: Realism, Romanticism, Symbolism, Naturalism

Born: March 16, 1822 - Bordeaux, Gironde, France

Died: May 25, 1899 - Thomery (By), France

Rosa Bonheur Timeline

Quotes

"Art is a tyrant. It demands heart, brain, soul, body. The entireness of the votary. Nothing less will win its highest favor. I wed art. It is my husband, my world, my life dream, the air I breathe. I know nothing else, feel nothing else, think nothing else."
Rosa Bonheur
"To perfect myself in the study of nature I spent whole days in the Roule slaughterhouse. One must be greatly devoted to art to stand the sight of such horrors...Providence sent me a protector...I was thus enabled to work undisturbed."
Rosa Bonheur
"Our timid beauties of old Europe are too easily led to the altar, like ewes going to sacrifice in pagan temples...when a girl dons a crown of orange blossoms, she becomes a subordinate...she'll remain in obscurity."
Rosa Bonheur
"The point of departure must always be a vision of the truth. The eye is the route of the soul, and the pencil or brush must sincerely and naively reproduce what it sees."
Rosa Bonheur
"I was forced to recognize that the clothing of my sex was a constant bother. That is why I decided to solicit the authorization to wear men's clothing from the prefect of police."
Rosa Bonheur
"For just a month we have been climbing mountains and crossing waters without resting...I have seen all the places Walter Scott had chosen for the characters he created...I am bringing back a cargo not of studies but of living animals..."
Rosa Bonheur
"My mother, the most noble and proud of creatures, succumbing to exhaustion and wretched poverty, while my father was dreaming about saving the human race."
Rosa Bonheur
"Fame is not without its inconveniences, as well as its agreeable side...I am receiving cards from all quarters..."
Rosa Bonheur
"...There was no solemn distribution of medals as there is today...the laureates had to go and fetch them in the office of the director. My father...sent me all alone..."
Rosa Bonheur

"To (my father's) 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."

Synopsis

From early childhood Rosa Bonheur had a liberal outlook and defiant personality, attributed in part to her father's belief in a form of socialism whereby class and gender distinctions were radically dissolved. As such, even though born at a time when women were not admitted to art school and most typically became absorbed into a life of domestic dependency, this was not Bonheur's fate. With her father's support she began to paint prolifically from her early teenage years, by mid career she had been awarded many prestigious accolades previously only achieved by men, and in later life she was famous and independently wealthy.

Alongside her English counter-part, Edwin Landseer, Rosa Bonheur was the foremost French "animalier" (animal painter) of her age, and arguably of all time. Bonheur's work was linked to landscape painting and the Realist tradition, but also spoke of a connection between nature, art, and society that ran deeper than the observational platform from which the canvases initially sprang. As the influential theorist John Ruskin well articulated in 1847, by painting surrounding nature, "by rejecting nothing; believing nothing", that then, effortlessly and organically "the truth" emerges. In this 'truth' there is a subtle moral lesson of equality to be learnt, that even animals have a soul, and that all (and this applies to humans now too), no matter how big, small, dark or light, deserve attention, care, and visibility. Rosa Bonheur said herself that she was 'wed to her art'. As such, her pictures become her children painted with unfailing dedication and exquisite tenderness. She was a pioneer for an alternate family structure, spending her life in a same sex partnership devoted to the creation and care of animals and art works.

Key Ideas

Rosa Bonheur is an early example of a feminist. She lived entirely independently, with no need of any financial support beyond her own living made from painting. Groundbreaking for the time, Bonheur was openly a lesbian, living for her whole life with another woman. She also rejected typical female attire and instead applied for a police permit (indicating just how radical this was) in 1852 to wear men's clothes whilst she worked. As such, she sets a precedent and becomes a role model to the likes of the iconic Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo, who made similar visual statements of equality in the twentieth century.
Bonheur diligently studied animal anatomy, often visiting the abattoir and calling such research, "...wading in pools of blood...". The artist's interest in observing the world around her goes deeper than a simple surface sentimentality. The message is that art, like medicine, is a holistic discipline with the scientific impetus to get to the heart of what it means to be alive. How is flesh composed, and how does a body move, and how does that in turn then feel? Bonheur was dedicated to understanding the inner working of creatures in order to successfully convey an exterior view.
Painted with the accuracy and intricacy of photography before and simultaneous to its widespread invention, her work satisfied an intense craving for Realism at this time. However, there is also a subtle symbolism at work in Rosa Bonheur's pictures. In the way that the artist treats all of her subjects equally, whatever species, be it dog, lion, bull or horse, small or colossal, black, white or brown, Bonheur makes no distinction in terms of value. The underlying suggestion is that she may be a pioneer of racial as well as gender equality, and whether consciously or unconsciously so, a visionary of a better world in which boundaries and binary definitions are entirely dissolved.
Despite being born a Frenchwoman, Bonheur's work fits particularly well into the English values of the day. Under the reign of Queen Victoria - herself a personal lover of animal paintings - art became homely and easy to understand. The emphasis on literature and philosophy, as well as on art was to adopt a plainer language, and as such engage all people, not only the great and the wealthy. Bonheur's love of storytelling and passion for animals at a time when the British nation was establishing homes for lost and abandoned dogs in Battersea and building pet cemeteries, placed her perfectly in tune, and as such brought fame in her lifetime.

Biography

Rosa Bonheur Photo

Childhood and Education

Rosa Bonheur (née Marie-Rosalie) was the oldest of four children, two girls and two boys, born to an idealistic artist father, Oscar-Raymond, and a patient piano teacher mother, Sophie. Interestingly, all four of the children grew to be talented and successful artists. The family moved from rural Bordeaux to Paris in 1829 when Rosa was six years old. She was a rambunctious child who enjoyed sketching as soon as she could hold a pencil, but initially struggled with reading and writing. Her mother helped her to learn basic literacy by asking her daughter to draw an animal for each letter of the alphabet. Rosa recalled "...One day she had a bright idea...She told me to draw an ass opposite the A and a cow opposite the C and so on..." Following her mother's ingenious method, Bonheur always credited her, and this moment in life for her enduring love and deep understanding of animals.

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Rosa Bonheur Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Rosa Bonheur
Interactive chart with Rosa Bonheur's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

George Stubbs
Antoine-Louis Barge
John Louis Gericault
Karl Bodner
Constant Tryon

Personal Contacts

Jean-Baptiste Simeon ChardinJean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin
Nathalie Micas

Movements

RealismRealism
RomanticismRomanticism
Landscape Painting

Influences on Artist
Rosa Bonheur
Rosa Bonheur
Years Worked: 1836 - 1899
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Anna Klumpke
Molly Luce
Wayne Theibaud
Robin Becker

Personal Contacts

Jean-Baptiste Simeon ChardinJean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin

Movements

RealismRealism
RomanticismRomanticism
Feminist MovementFeminist Movement

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Cheryl Van Buskirk

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Cheryl Van Buskirk
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie
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