Rosa Bonheur Realist painter

 Rosa Bonheur (born Marie-Rosalie Bonheur; 16 March 1822 - 25 May 1899) was a French artist known best as a painter of animals (animalière). She also made sculpture in a realist style.

Her paintings include Ploughing in the Nivernais, first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1848, and now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, and The Horse Fair (in French: Le marché aux chevaux), which was exhibited at the Salon of 1853 (finished in 1855) and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

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Bonheur was widely considered to be the most famous female painter of the nineteenth century.

Bonheur was openly lesbian. She lived with her partner Nathalie Micas for over 40 years until Micas's death, after which she began a relationship with American painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke.

Early development and artistic training

Bonheur was born on 16 March 1822 in Bordeaux, Gironde, the oldest child in a family of artists.
Her mother was Sophie Bonheur (née Marquis), a piano teacher; she died when Rosa was eleven. Her father was Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, a landscape and portrait painter who encouraged his daughter's artistic talents.
Though of Jewish origin,the Bonheur family adhered to Saint-Simonianism, a Christian-socialist sect that promoted the education of women alongside men. Bonheur's siblings included the animal painters Auguste Bonheur and Juliette Bonheur, as well as the animal sculptor Isidore Jules Bonheur.

Francis Galton used the Bonheurs as an example of the eponymous "Hereditary Genius" in his 1869 essay.
Bonheur moved to Paris in 1828 at the age of six with her mother and siblings, after her father had gone ahead of them to establish a residence and income there.
By family accounts, she had been an unruly child and had a difficult time learning to read, though she would sketch for hours at a time with pencil and paper before she learned to talk.

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Her mother taught her to read and write by asking her to choose and draw a different animal for each letter of the alphabet.
The artist credited her love of drawing animals to these reading lessons with her mother.
At school she was often disruptive, and was expelled numerous times.

After a failed apprenticeship with a seamstress at the age of twelve, her father undertook her training as a painter. Her father allowed her to pursue her interest in painting animals by bringing live animals to the family's studio for studying.

Following the traditional art school curriculum of the period, Bonheur began her training by copying images from drawing books and by sketching plaster models.
As her training progressed, she made studies of domesticated animals, including horses, sheep, cows, goats, rabbits and other animals in the pastures around the perimeter of Paris, the open fields of Villiers near Levallois-Perret, and the still-wild Bois de Boulogne.

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At fourteen, she began to copy paintings at the Louvre.
Among her favorite painters were Nicolas Poussin and Peter Paul Rubens, though she also copied the paintings of Paulus Potter, Frans Pourbus the Younger, Louis Léopold Robert, Salvatore Rosa and Karel Dujardin.

She studied animal anatomy and osteology in the abattoirs of Paris and dissected animals at the École nationale vétérinaire d'Alfort, the National Veterinary Institute in Paris.
There she prepared detailed studies that she later used as references for her paintings and sculptures.
During this period, she befriended the father-and-son comparative anatomists and zoologists, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.

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Early success

A French government commission led to Bonheur's first great success, Ploughing in the Nivernais, exhibited in 1849 and now in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
Her most famous work, the monumental The Horse Fair, was completed in 1855 and measured eight feet high by sixteen feet wide.
It depicts the horse market held in Paris, on the tree-lined boulevard de l'Hôpital, near the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, which is visible in the painting's background. There is a reduced version in the National Gallery in London.

This work led to international fame and recognition; that same year she traveled to Scotland and met Queen Victoria, who admired Bonheur's work.
In Scotland, she completed sketches for later works including Highland Shepherd, completed in 1859, and A Scottish Raid, completed in 1860.
These pieces depicted a way of life in the Scottish highlands that had disappeared a century earlier, and they had enormous appeal to Victorian sensibilities.

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Bonheur exhibited her work at the Palace of Fine Arts and The Woman's Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.
In 1889 and 1890 she developed a friendship with American sculptor Cyrus Dallin who was studying in Paris.
Together they sketched the animals and cast of Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show.
In 1890 Bonheur painted Cody on horseback. Dallin's work from this period "A Signal of Piece" would also be displayed in Chicago in 1893 and be the first major step in his career.

Though she was more popular in England than in her native France, she was decorated with the French Legion of Honour by the Empress Eugénie in 1865, and was promoted to Officer of the order in 1894.

She was the first female artist to be given this award.

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Patronage and the market for her work

Edouard Louis Dubufe, Portrait of Rosa Bonheur 1857. Symbolic of her work as an Animalière, the bull was painted by Bonheur herself.
Bonheur was represented by the art dealer Ernest Gambart (1814-1902).
In 1855 he brought Bonheur to the United Kingdom, and he purchased the reproduction rights to her work.
Many engravings of Bonheur's work were created from reproductions by Charles George Lewis (1808–1880), one of the finest engravers of the day.
In 1859 her success enabled her to move to the Château de By near Fontainebleau, not far from Paris, where she lived for the rest of her life. The house is now a museum dedicated to her.

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Personal life and legacy

Women were often only reluctantly educated as artists in Bonheur's day, and by becoming such a successful artist she helped to open doors to the women artists that followed her.
Bonheur was known for wearing men's clothing; she attributed her choice of trousers to their practicality for working with animals (see Rational dress).
She lived with her first partner, Nathalie Micas, for over 40 years until Micas' death, and later began a relationship with the American painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke.
At a time when lesbianism was regarded as animalistic and deranged by most French officials, Bonheur's outspokenness about her personal life was groundbreaking.
In a world where gender expression was policed, Bonheur broke boundaries by deciding to wear trousers, shirts and ties, although not in her painted portraits or posed photographs.

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She did not do this because she wanted to be a man, though she occasionally referred to herself as a grandson or brother when talking about her family; rather, she identified with the power and freedom reserved for men.
Wearing men's clothing gave Bonheur a sense of identity in that it allowed her to openly show that she refused to conform to societies' construction of the gender binary. It also broadcast her sexuality at a time where the lesbian stereotype consisted of women who cut their hair short, wore trousers, and chain-smoked.
Rosa Bonheur did all three. Bonheur never explicitly said she was a lesbian, but her lifestyle and the way she talked about her female partners suggests this.
Until 2013 women in France were technically forbidden from wearing trousers by the “Decree concerning the cross-dressing of women” which was implemented on 17 November 1800.
By at least World War II this was largely ignored, but in Bonheur's time might still be an issue.
In 1852, Bonheur had to ask permission from the police to wear trousers, as this was her preferred attire to go to the sheep and cattle markets to study the animals she painted.

Bonheur, while taking pleasure in activities usually reserved for men (such as hunting and smoking), viewed her womanhood as something far superior to anything a man could offer or experience.
She viewed men as stupid and mentioned that the only males she had time or attention for were the bulls she painted.
Having chosen to never become an adjunct or appendage to a man in terms of painting, she decided she would be her own boss and that she would lean on herself and her female partners instead.
She had her partners focus on the home life while she took on the role of breadwinner by focusing on her painting. Bonheur's legacy paved the way for other lesbian artists who didn't favour the life society had laid out for them.

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Bonheur died on 25 May 1899, at the age of 77, at Thomery (By), France.

She was buried together with Nathalie Micas (1824 - 24 June 1889), her lifelong companion, at Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Klumpke was Bonheur's sole heir after her death, and later joined Micas and Bonheur in the same cemetery upon her death. Many of her paintings, which had not previously been shown publicly, were sold at auction in Paris in 1900.
Along with other realist painters of the 19th century, for much of the 20th century Bonheur fell from fashion, and in 1978 a critic described Ploughing in the Nivernais as "entirely forgotten and rarely dragged out from oblivion"; however, that same year it was part of a series of paintings sent to China by the French government for an exhibition titled "The French Landscape and Peasant, 1820–1905". Since then her reputation has been somewhat revived.

Art historian Linda Nochlin’s 1971 essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?, considered a pioneering essay for both feminist art history and feminist art theory, contains a section about and titled "Rosa Bonheur".

One of Bonheur's works, Monarchs of the Forest, sold at auction in 2008 for just over $200,000.
On 16 March 2022, Google honoured Bonheur with a Doodle to mark the bicentennial of her birth.
The Doodle reached five countries: the United States, Ireland, France, Iceland and India. | Source: © Wikipedia

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Maria Rosalia Bonheur (1822-1899) è considerata la pittrice più famosa del 19° secolo.
Fu la prima donna artista Francese ad essere insignita del titolo di Cavaliere della Légion d'honneur nel 1865, ricevendolo dalle mani della stessa imperatrice Eugenia de Montijo.

Maria Bonheur è stata una pittrice francese, famosa sia in Francia che nel Regno Unito e negli Stati Uniti d'America.
Come George Sand e Sarah Bernhardt fu un personaggio rappresentativo degli inizi del femminismo.

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La famiglia

Fu il padre di Rosa, il pittore Raymond Bonheur, a incoraggiare la passione dei figli per l'arte e a sostenere la loro ambizione di diventare degli artisti: saranno pittori Auguste e Juliette Bonheur, Isidore Bonheur sarà scultore, infine Rosa, pittrice e scultrice, che si specializzerà nella rappresentazione di animali.
Sua madre, di padre sconosciuto, era stata adottata da un ricco commerciante di Bordeaux, Jean-Bapriste Dublan de Lahet.
A Rosa piaceva immaginare che il mistero delle sue origini nascondesse qualche segreto di Stato, e ch'ella fosse in realtà di sangue reale, ma oggi si sa che Dublan de Lahet era in effetti il suo vero nonno.

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Il periodo giovanile e la formazione

Trascorse parecchi anni in campagna, a Château Grimont (Quinsac), dove si fece la fama di un maschio mancato; fama che l'accompagnò per tutta la vita e che lei non cercò mai di smentire, portando i capelli corti e fumando dei sigari Avana.
Omosessuale, ebbe nella vita due passioni: una per Nathalie Micas, incontrata nel 1837 (Rosa aveva a quel tempo quattordici anni e Nathalie dodici), che divenne pittrice come lei e dalla quale Rosa non si separò mai sino alla morte di lei, avvenuta nel 1889; l'altra, dopo la scomparsa di Nathalie, per la pittrice statunitense Anna Klumpke, con la quale Rosa visse dieci anni, fino alla morte, e che divenne sua erede universale.
Paradossalmente, la vita eccentrica che Rosa Bonheur conduceva non fece scandalo in un'epoca peraltro molto attenta alle convenzioni. Rosa Bonheur dovette comunque richiedere alle autorità di polizia l'autorizzazione a vestirsi da uomo - o più esattamente a indossare i pantaloni - per frequentare le fiere di bestiame (Autorizzazione di travestimento e di abbigliamento maschile, rinnovabile ogni sei mesi presso la Prefettura di Parigi).

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I riconoscimenti

Allieva di suo padre, ella espose per la prima volta nel 1841 al Salon. Nel 1845 ottenne una medaglia di terza classe e nel 1848 una medaglia d'oro.
L'anno seguente espose il quadro "Aratura nelle campagne di Nevers", oggi esposto al Museo d'Orsay, e nel 1853 "Il mercato di cavalli", oggi al Metropolitan Museum of Art di New York, con il quale raggiunse quella fama internazionale che le permise di compiere diversi viaggi, nel corso dei quali verrà presentata a personalità altolocate, quali la regina Vittoria e l'imperatrice Eugenia, o ancora il colonnello Cody (Buffalo Bill), che le offrirà un'autentica panoplia dei Sioux.
Nel 1859, si stabilì a By, zona viticola del comune di Thomery (Seine-et-Marne), dove allestì il suo atelier e organizzò gli spazi per i suoi animali.
Fu la prima donna artista francese ad essere insignita del titolo di cavaliere della Légion d'honneur nel 1865, ricevendolo dalle mani della stessa imperatrice Eugenia de Montijo.

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Rosa Bonheur morì a 77 anni, il 25 maggio del 1899 nel Castello di By e fu sepolta a Parigi nel cimitero di Père-Lachaise.
I quadri, gli acquarelli, i bronzi e le incisioni presenti nel suo studio, così come la sua collezione personale, furono venduti alla galleria Georges Petit, a Parigi, nel 1900.
Oggi l'atelier di Rosa Bonheur è aperto al pubblico come Musée de l'atelier Rosa Bonheur di By, a Thomery, nei pressi della foresta di Fontainebleau.
L'imperatrice Eugenia visitò l'atelier di Rosa Bonheur à Thomery in due occasioni: una prima volta il 14 giugno 1864 e una seconda nel 1865, per conferirle la "Légion d'honneur".
Una delle due visite è immortalata in un'incisione su legno tratta da un disegno di Auguste Victor Deroy (1825-1906) e conservata nel Castello di Fontainebleau. | Fonte: © Wikipedia

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