Rosa Bonheur, My latest Favorite

 Rosa Bonheur was born in France in 1822, the oldest of four children. Her father was a painter, who taught his children all he knew about drawing and painting, as there were no art schools that allowed women. He belonged to the St. Simonians, a socialist group which believed in the equality of men and women. Rosa was brought up with an unusual amount of freedom for a girl of that time. She loved animals from the beginning. When her mother Sophie saw she was having trouble learning the alphabet, she suggested Rosa draw an animal for each letter. Rosa was hooked.
Rosa spent a great deal of time drawing out in nature, at horse stables, slaughterhouses, and butchers. She preferred wearing pants and keeping her hair cut short, certainly more practical for the work she was doing, but so unusual in those days that she had to get a permit from the French police to wear pants! The Horse Fair, above, was her most famous painting, especially popular in England and the U.S. Many American schoolrooms had prints of this painting on their walls.
 She was so popular in the U.S., there were even Rosa Bonheur dolls, wearing trousers of course! People were fascinated by this woman who broke convention, smoking and drinking with the men. Often when she was out and about, she was mistaken for a man.

Rosa became friends with Buffalo Bill when he was at the World's Fair in Paris. It's the horse, however, who's really the focus of the painting. 

 Here she is above at the chateau she bought in 1860. Plowing the Nivernais, below, for which she was awarded a gold medal at the Paris salon of 1848. In 1865 Empress Eugenie awards Rosa the Cross of the Legion of Honor, stating 'Genius has no sex'.  Rosa is the first female artist ever to receive this award.
Rosa lived at her chateau in By near Fontainebleau, for the rest of her life, with her companion Natalie Micas. They had a constantly changing menagerie of many animals: sheep (her favorite), horses, goats, oxen, mules, dogs, chickens, and even two lions!
Her home is now the Rosa Bonheur museum, open to the public.
One of my favorite quotes of hers:
"I have no patience with women who ask permission to think."


  1. Hi Kieren
    I'd heard of Rosa Bonheur and The Horse Fair, but didn't know much more ... thanks for posting this, it's good to find out more.

  2. Glad you liked it. I found her fascinating.


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