*16th March 1822, Bordeaux, today France
† 25th May 1899, Thomery, today France
Rosa Bonheur was a prominent 19th century French painter of animals of the naturalist and realist schools.
Bonheur grew up in a liberal, artistic household – her father, also a painter, attached great importance to equal access to education and to men and women having the same civil rights. Together with her brothers, Rosa Bonheur attended a school for boys in Paris, followed by a girls’ boarding school, and was taught to draw at an early age by her father.
In contrast to other female painters of the time, who concentrated on conventional subjects such as small animals, Bonheur mainly painted horses and cows.In 1941 she was able to exhibit her picture Bœufs et Taureaux, race du Cantal at the Pariser Salon, which made a name for her. She became famous thanks to her enormous painting Le marché aux chevaux (The Horse Fair, 2.5m x 5m) which had also been exhibited there and can now be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Bonheur returned home from her 1856 tour across England, organised by her galerist, with living animals for her atelier which she studied so she could paint the most realistic depiction possible. For this same purpose, she worked in slaughterhouses and horse fairs – usually in men’s clothing. Bonheur is not only counted among the most important female painters of her time on an artistic level; she was also a huge commercial success. She completed commissioned works for international clients and used the proceeds to buy a small chateau, where she lived with Nathalie Micas. She achieved further fame with her portraits of Buffalo Bill Cody’s troupe for the world’s fair, held in Paris in 1889. Bonheur was invited to court and showered with honours: Empress Eugénie awarded her the cross of the Legion of Honour in 1865, and in 1984 she became the first woman to be awarded the officer’s cross of the Legion of Honour.
In her final year of life, she met American painter Anna Klumpke, who she made her sole heir and executor.
Rosa Bonheur was a lesbian.