Friday, March 16, 2018

Rosa Bonheur. Born on March 16 in 1822

Portrait of Rosa Bonheur by Anna Klumpke

Born on March 16, 1822 in Bordeaux, Rosa Bonheur was most popular artist of nineteenth-century France, She was also one of the first renowned painters of animals and the first woman awarded the Grand Cross by the French Legion of Honor. A professional artist with a successful career, Bonheur had two consecutive and committed relationships with women.

Ploughing in the Nivernais, Musée d'Orsay

Study of a dog, 1860 ? 

Her father was a dedicated remember of the Saint Simeon Society, a group dedicated to the reform of society. Her father abandoned the family to live with the Saint Simeons, creating enormous hardship and poverty for Rosa, her mother and the rest of his children. 

From Wikipedia: Bonheur's siblings included the animal painters Auguste Bonheur and Juliette Bonheur and the animal sculptor Isidore Jules Bonheur. Francis Galton used the Bonheurs as an example of "Hereditary Genius" in his 1869 essay of the same title.

Her mother died in 1833, of poverty and exhaustion, something which Rosa never forgot. After her mother's death, Rosa was taken in by neighbors, the Micas family.

Their daughter, Nathalie was Rosa's first love and the women she lived with for most of her life. (40 years). 

When Bonheur began her professional career, she had already received some training from her father, a landscape and portrait painter. Bonheur was a rebellious child, refusing the learn "traditional" female skills so her father, eventually, encouraged her to continue with her love of art. Bonheur learned more by sketching at the Louvre, a favorite learning method for artists from the Renaissance until the 20th centuryl. Later she studied with Léon Cogniet. From the beginning her favorite subject was animals. She did not hesitate to study anatomy by dissection, visiting the horse market and by further direct study. She even got permission from the French government to wear men's slacks, a loose smock and heavy boots to protect her feet in the muck of animal pens. 

From the age of 19 (1841) through 1853, when she won the salon's gold medal. In 1848 she was commissioned by the French government to paint Plowing on the Nivernais." In the same year, she and her sister, Juliette, became directors of l"ecole gratuite de dessin pour les jeunes filles, a post once held by her father. 

The Horse Fair
She completed her most famous work "The Horse Fair," in 1855. This painting was bought by a London art dealer and became so well known that Queen Victoria requested a private viewing. It would lather be bought in 188y by Cornelius Vanderbilt and was donated to the new Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY City. 

Her financial success allowed her to purchase a house and farm near Fontainebleu Forest. In 1860, she moved there with Natalie and Madame Micas. The three women divided the work so that Madame Micas served as the housekeeper, Natalie as the one who prepared Bonheur's canvases and dealt with art dealers and patrons, leaving Bonheur free to paint. 

Bonheur's fame continue to rise, leading to her receiving the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, the first woman to do so. But it was not all wine and fancy honors for Bohneur. In 1889, Natalie died and she became, for a while, unable to work or even see friends. But by 1893, Bohneur had recovered and formed an attachment with a young artist, Anna Klumpke who was with her until her death on May, 25, 1899. 

"While Bonheur never referred to herself as a lesbian, she certainly understood her relationships with Nathalie Micas and Anna Klumpke to be a subversive form of matrimony. These liaisons rejected the patriarchal institution of marriage in favor of a matriarchal life in partnership. Bonheur used her last will and testament to force legal recognition of her right to transfer her property to another woman."

Her ashes are buried with those of Natalie and Anna in 
PèreLachaise cemetery in Paris. 


Biography: In a century that did its best to keep women "in their place," Rosa Bonheur (1822--99) defined herself outside of the social and legal codes of her time. To the horror and bewilderment of many, she earned her own money, managed her own property, wore trousers, hunted, and smoked.

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