Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)

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Most women of her time did not receive training to become professional artists, but Rosa Bonheur was an exception to the rule. Born in France in 1822, Bonheur came from a family of artists. She would later prove to have talent that rivaled any of her male peers.

She grew up in a home that supported equal rights for both males and females, and her family was very supportive of her artistic pursuits. As a young girl, she donned boys’ clothing and visited the slaughterhouses to educate herself in animal anatomy. During this time, Bonheur was enrolled in a private school for boys and was actually the only girl there. She was expelled for “tomboyish” behavior.

From age 10 on, Bonheur became intent on creating artistic representations of animals. She visited the parks that bordered Paris, observing the animals and sketching them. This was the beginning of an artistic career that would be totally centered around animals. Her parents continued to support her love of art, allowing her to abandon her expected career path of dressmaking to pursue her artistic goals.

Couching Lion, 1872
Courtesy: Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York City

Horses at Stall

As she grew older, Bonheur was known for dressing in male clothing, and she became involved in sculpting. Before Bonheur, this was considered a male art form. This didn’t bother Bonheur who had been labeled as a bit eccentric for her untraditional style of dress and short-cropped hairstyle. She continued to visit slaughterhouses, and even went on to perform dissections of animals to analyze their muscle and bone structure in order to make her sculptures even more realistic.

Steer at Rest

By age 17, she was helping supplement her family’s income by copying paintings housed in the Louvre. At age 19, she submitted her first painting to the Salon. A year later, she submitted her first sculpture. In 1843, she was awarded a third class medal for her exhibit of three paintings and two sculptures and was given a state commission for a painting. She started to receive more attention as an artist as she went on to exhibit her paintings.

Buffalo Bill

Black and Tan King Charles Spaniel, 1878

In 1848, she received Gold Medal First Class for a sculpture. Of her sculptural works, only 13 survived, and only 7 of those were exhibited while she was alive. There are very few of her bronze sculptures because they were cast in very small editions. For this reason, they are very valuable and highly coveted by art collectors today.

Head of Ram

Sadly, Bonheur did not receive much recognition in France’s art world during her lifetime. She was more popular in the rest of Europe. She also had supporters in the United States, which is where she sold most of her works. Works of Bonheur do exist, and there is likelihood that they may be in the United States considering that is where she sold most of her pieces. Her bronze sculptures are casts by Hippolyte Peyrol, and she signed her bronzes Rosa B. Each is sculpted with a truly naturalistic, accurate style. If you believe you own a work of art by Rosa Bonheur, contact Art Experts. We authenticate, appraise, research and provide Certificates of Authenticity (COA's) for works by Rosa Bonheur.