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Let justice be done for Rosa Bonheur too!
que-justice-soit-faite-aussi-pour-rosa-bonheur - ARTACTIF
August 2022 | Temps de lecture : 45 min | 0 commentaire(s)

About the four exhibitions paying tribute to Rosa Bonheur on the occasion of the bicentenary of her birth:

  •     at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux until 18 September,
  •     at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris from 18 October 2022 to 15 January 2023,
  •     at the Château de Rosa Bonheur in Thomery (77) until 29 August for "Le musée des œuvres disparues" and from 17 September to 29 January for "Rosa Bonheur intime
  •     at the Château de Fontainebleau until 23 January 2023.

 

"My father, that enthusiastic apostle of humanity, told me many times that the mission of woman was to raise the human race, that she was the Messiah of the future centuries. I owe to his doctrines the great and proud ambition that I have conceived for the sex to which I pride myself in belonging and whose independence I will support until my last day", explained Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) to Anna Klumpke (1856-1942), the young American painter who wrote her biography. The woman who shared the last years of her life became her universal legatee and worked to perpetuate her work. Fortunately, this woman was there! Because a young guide who recently visited the Rosa Bonheur exhibition in Bordeaux, the painter's birthplace, made no secret of the fact: "I myself, having studied at the School of Fine Arts, had never heard of Rosa Bonheur!

Is it really because her paintings were considered too classical that Rosa Bonheur, after having been the first woman artist to receive the Légion d'honneur in 1865 as an illustrious animal painter, has been completely forgotten in the 20th century? Is there only room for contemporary art or modern art in art education? Yet there are others, painters with classically realistic work, who have remained in art history. Strangely enough, they are men.

So in this year of the 200th anniversary of her birth, and in the midst of the revaluation of talented artists who were only female, it was the perfect occasion to talk about this icon of feminism again. For Rosa Bonheur dared to step on the toes of men without hesitating to free herself from the constraints of her gender. Not only by becoming the greatest animal painter at a time when the animal genre did not yet really exist in art, but also by devoting to it monumental formats that were previously reserved for history painting... and for men. And even by having his "permission to cross-dress" renewed every six months, which allowed him to wear trousers to work! Because frankly, being wrapped up in a lot of petticoats when you spend hours at cattle fairs, in slaughterhouses or in the wild observing animals until you get a

About the four exhibitions paying tribute to Rosa Bonheur on the occasion of the bicentenary of her birth:

  •     at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux until 18 September,
  •     at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris from 18 October 2022 to 15 January 2023,
  •     at the Château de Rosa Bonheur in Thomery (77) until 29 August for "Le musée des œuvres disparues" and from 17 September to 29 January for "Rosa Bonheur intime
  •     at the Château de Fontainebleau until 23 January 2023.

 

"My father, that enthusiastic apostle of humanity, told me many times that the mission of woman was to raise the human race, that she was the Messiah of the future centuries. I owe to his doctrines the great and proud ambition that I have conceived for the sex to which I pride myself in belonging and whose independence I will support until my last day", explained Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) to Anna Klumpke (1856-1942), the young American painter who wrote her biography. The woman who shared the last years of her life became her universal legatee and worked to perpetuate her work. Fortunately, this woman was there! Because a young guide who recently visited the Rosa Bonheur exhibition in Bordeaux, the painter's birthplace, made no secret of the fact: "I myself, having studied at the School of Fine Arts, had never heard of Rosa Bonheur!

Is it really because her paintings were considered too classical that Rosa Bonheur, after having been the first woman artist to receive the Légion d'honneur in 1865 as an illustrious animal painter, has been completely forgotten in the 20th century? Is there only room for contemporary art or modern art in art education? Yet there are others, painters with classically realistic work, who have remained in art history. Strangely enough, they are men.

So in this year of the 200th anniversary of her birth, and in the midst of the revaluation of talented artists who were only female, it was the perfect occasion to talk about this icon of feminism again. For Rosa Bonheur dared to step on the toes of men without hesitating to free herself from the constraints of her gender. Not only by becoming the greatest animal painter at a time when the animal genre did not yet really exist in art, but also by devoting to it monumental formats that were previously reserved for history painting... and for men. And even by having his "permission to cross-dress" renewed every six months, which allowed him to wear trousers to work! Because frankly, being wrapped up in a lot of petticoats when you spend hours at cattle fairs, in slaughterhouses or in the wild observing animals until you get a feel for every muscle and bone in them, is not only impractical but downright dangerous!

In short, whether you like her paintings or not, whether you love animals or not, it is impossible to remain insensitive to the story of Rosa Bonheur. To her personality added to her determination. To her pugnacity added to her talent. To her ambition added to her sense of sisterhood. Because even today, the Château de By, the property she bought with the sale of her paintings in 1860 in Thomery, on the edge of Fontainebleau, and where she lived with her childhood friend Nathalie Micas and the latter's mother, then with Anna Klumpke, without husband or children, but without it ever being known whether or not she was homosexual, is still run by women. A matter of trust. It is also a question of "true worship" of the memory of her mother. A mother who, unlike her, had sacrificed herself for her husband and children before dying of fatigue and misery, and whose loss she never consoled herself with when she was only 11.

As Armelle Fémelat reminds us in the June issue of Beaux-Arts Magazine, Rosa Bonheur committed herself "body and soul to the representation of animals", even if it meant making it a "holy mission", by "proclaiming herself a vestal of art". In the end, we are only as good as our own efforts. Her father, Raymond Bonheur, a painter and drawing teacher, immediately had faith in this determined young girl who, at the age of 14, expressed the wish to "make herself famous by simply painting animals". She never wavered from this goal, nor did she count the hours during which she tirelessly kept company with her pawed, feathered or furry models.  When she was not absorbed in animal anatomy.

Signing Rosa Bonheur in 1844, the affectionate nickname given by her mother to the little Marie Rosalie that she was, she also excelled in sculpture, the pupil soon surpassed the master, and even her brothers and sister, painters and sculptors themselves, bowed to her talent, which would soon make a living for them all. Although the city of Bordeaux refused to buy her monumental "Marché aux chevaux" for 12,000 francs, which was a triumph at the 1853 Salon, a wise merchant by the name of Ernest Gambart offered her 40,000 francs to sell it in America, from where Rosa Bonheur's success continued to spread throughout the world. And where it can now be seen at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It is a digital installation created for the current exhibition that allows us to see it in detail from every angle, since we were unable to take it across the Atlantic.

The passionate Rosa Bonheur had to know everything about animals in order to make the most faithful representation possible. The most beautiful possible. So much so that her horse cavalcades seem to neigh on the walls of the Musée des beaux-arts in Bordeaux, even when they are unfinished. So much so that a visitor, standing in front of a huge painting of a pair of lions that Rosa Bonheur had gone so far as to let live in semi-freedom on her property in By, exclaimed that they were even "more beautiful than in real life"! I'm not sure the artist appreciates the comment. Nor is it clear that this gentleman has ever seen real, healthy lions in the wild.

"My dogs are my best friends. I generally find men stupid, and that flatters me", wrote Rosa Bonheur to her cousin in 1867. She did not wait until she was 45 to find out. With the exception of Buffalo Bill, who fascinated her and whose portrait she painted on horseback when she met him just after the death of her beloved Nathalie Micas, a loss that left her devastated, men are a blur in Rosa Bonheur's paintings. Very quickly surrounded by wild or domestic animals of all kinds, she never tired of plunging into the depths of their eyes to detect their soul, to the point that a visitor to the Bordeaux exhibition, in front of a series of portraits of dogs, wondered if she had not given them a look that was a little too human. "Is this not where the wills and feelings of beings to whom nature has given no other means of expressing their thoughts are painted?" Rosa Bonheur might have replied, as she said to Anna Klumpke. It is certain that the look in the eyes of the white ox in her "Ploughing in the Nivernais", her first official commission involving a team of three pairs of beasts of burden on a painting 2.60 m long, is not necessarily very pleasant to look at, as it seems to say so much about the difficulty of her work...

 

Labourage nivernais

Labourage nivernais - Rosa Bonheur

feel for every muscle and bone in them, is not only impractical but downright dangerous!

 

In short, whether you like her paintings or not, whether you love animals or not, it is impossible to remain insensitive to the story of Rosa Bonheur. To her personality added to her determination. To her pugnacity added to her talent. To her ambition added to her sense of sisterhood. Because even today, the Château de By, the property she bought with the sale of her paintings in 1860 in Thomery, on the edge of Fontainebleau, and where she lived with her childhood friend Nathalie Micas and the latter's mother, then with Anna Klumpke, without husband or children, but without it ever being known whether or not she was homosexual, is still run by women. A matter of trust. It is also a question of "true worship" of the memory of her mother. A mother who, unlike her, had sacrificed herself for her husband and children before dying of fatigue and misery, and whose loss she never consoled herself with when she was only 11.

As Armelle Fémelat reminds us in the June issue of Beaux-Arts Magazine, Rosa Bonheur committed herself "body and soul to the representation of animals", even if it meant making it a "holy mission", by "proclaiming herself a vestal of art". In the end, we are only as good as our own efforts. Her father, Raymond Bonheur, a painter and drawing teacher, immediately had faith in this determined young girl who, at the age of 14, expressed the wish to "make herself famous by simply painting animals". She never wavered from this goal, nor did she count the hours during which she tirelessly kept company with her pawed, feathered or furry models.  When she was not absorbed in animal anatomy.

Signing Rosa Bonheur in 1844, the affectionate nickname given by her mother to the little Marie Rosalie that she was, she also excelled in sculpture, the pupil soon surpassed the master, and even her brothers and sister, painters and sculptors themselves, bowed to her talent, which would soon make a living for them all. Although the city of Bordeaux refused to buy her monumental "Marché aux chevaux" for 12,000 francs, which was a triumph at the 1853 Salon, a wise merchant by the name of Ernest Gambart offered her 40,000 francs to sell it in America, from where Rosa Bonheur's success continued to spread throughout the world. And where it can now be seen at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It is a digital installation created for the current exhibition that allows us to see it in detail from every angle, since we were unable to take it across the Atlantic.

The passionate Rosa Bonheur had to know everything about animals in order to make the most faithful representation possible. The most beautiful possible. So much so that her horse cavalcades seem to neigh on the walls of the Musée des beaux-arts in Bordeaux, even when they are unfinished. So much so that a visitor, standing in front of a huge painting of a pair of lions that Rosa Bonheur had gone so far as to let live in semi-freedom on her property in By, exclaimed that they were even "more beautiful than in real life"! I'm not sure the artist appreciates the comment. Nor is it clear that this gentleman has ever seen real, healthy lions in the wild.

"My dogs are my best friends. I generally find men stupid, and that flatters me", wrote Rosa Bonheur to her cousin in 1867. She did not wait until she was 45 to find out. With the exception of Buffalo Bill, who fascinated her and whose portrait she painted on horseback when she met him just after the death of her beloved Nathalie Micas, a loss that left her devastated, men are a blur in Rosa Bonheur's paintings. Very quickly surrounded by wild or domestic animals of all kinds, she never tired of plunging into the depths of their eyes to detect their soul, to the point that a visitor to the Bordeaux exhibition, in front of a series of portraits of dogs, wondered if she had not given them a look that was a little too human. "Is this not where the wills and feelings of beings to whom nature has given no other means of expressing their thoughts are painted?" Rosa Bonheur might have replied, as she said to Anna Klumpke. It is certain that the look in the eyes of the white ox in her "Ploughing in the Nivernais", her first official commission involving a team of three pairs of beasts of burden on a painting 2.60 m long, is not necessarily very pleasant to look at, as it seems to say so much about the difficulty of her work...

 

Labourage nivernais

Labourage nivernais - Rosa Bonheur

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