1822-03-22

ROSA BONHEUR, French painter born (d: 1899); a French animalière and realist artist, one of few female sculptors. As a painter she became famous primarily for two chief works: Plowing in the Nivernais (in French Le labourage nivernais, le sombrage ), which was first exhibited at the Salon of 1848, and is now in the Musee D’Orsay in Paris depicts a team of oxen plowing in a field while attended by peasants set against a vast pastoral landscape; 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.

Bonheur is widely considered to have been the most famous woman painter of the 19th century. Writers used to explain Bonheur’s penchant for dressing in men’s clothing by saying that the famous painter of animals needed disguises to paint unmolested in the markets she frequented for her subjects. It’s a nice thought, but untrue. Rosa Bonheur, who lived together with Nathalie Micas for most of her life, dressed as a man because she wanted to.

She drank, she smoked, she became one of the most popular painters in the world and a member of the French Legion of Honor. She was, in short, very much her own person. As she once said to a male friend who was concerned about her movement thought the world of men (gasp!) unchaperoned, “Oh my dear Sir, if you knew how little I care for your sex, you wouldn’t get any ideas in your head. The fact is, in the way of males, I only like the bulls I paint.”