Rosa Bonheur

Posted on October 2, 2010


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The daughter of socialists who believed in equal rights for women, painter Rosa Bonheur was trained to be an artist by her father, after being expelled from school several times and failing at an apprenticeship as a seamstress. Bonheur, who painted in the traditional style of the times, achieved her greatest success with monumental paintings of animals – her painting “The Horse Fair” won her a gold medal at the Paris Salon of 1853 and gained her the right to be admitted thereafter without having to submit an application to the jury. She was hugely popular, and received the Légion d’Honneur from the Empress Eugenie in 1865.

But it wasn’t just her success in painting that made her famous; she not only smoked in public, she wore her hair cut short and she also had a permit from the police to wear trousers, which she did so in public. She is reported to have said, “”I was forced to recognize that the clothing of my sex was a constant bother. That is why I decided to solicit the authorization to wear men’s clothing from the prefect of police. But the suit I wear is my work attire, and nothing else. The epithets of imbeciles have never bothered me….”

Bonheur also lived for 40 years with Nathalie Micas, and when Micas died, with U.S. artist Anna Klumpke, who wrote Rosa Bonheur: The Artist’s (Auto)Biography. Bonheur died at 79 in 1899.

Bonheur has a page on wikipedia, here, as well as at the National Museum for Women in the Arts’ website, here.