Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) Musée d'Orsay


FYI it’s useful to know the musee d’Orsay is always open late on Thursday nights till 9:45

So many exhibits close in January. It’s a month of catching up. I finally went last Thursday to see the Rosa Bonheur exhibit before it closed last Sunday. It was mobbed.

No idea why I waited so long…
Since I am mad for Rosa Bonheur’s animal drawings.
Keeping up with everything going on in Paris is hard. I got there at 6pm. Already there were throngs of people waiting. When I left it was insane. *Note - do not wait until an exhibit is closing to see it in Paris.
The huge retrospective (200 pieces) was the 200th anniversary of Rosa Bonheur’s birth in 1822. 
Bonheur was born into a family of artists. Her father was a drawing instructor and sent her off to the Louvre to make copies of Dutch animal paintings. Her mother died when she was only 11. As the eldest of four children, she more or less took charge of her family.
Talent-wise she outshone them all. She could draw before she could write. She was encouraged by her mother, a piano teacher, to learn the alphabet by sketching an animal for each letter. At age 17 in 1841 she got 2 paintings into the annual artist’s salon. 
In 1849 she won the gold medal in the salon with Ploughing in the Nivernais, a first for a woman artist. It was commissioned by the 
French government who paid her 3,000 francs to complete the agricultural painting and later shown at the 1889 Worlds Fair in Paris, which enhanced her reputation world-wide.
Uniquely her focus was animals in nature, unlike the more traditional trend for historical or mythological paintings of her time. 
Her majestic animal paintings were on a grand scale.
Sometimes 16’ across
Her large paintings attracted heads of industry, royalty, heads of state with palaces and grand houses to fill. 
She was a pioneer
both as an artist and as an independent woman. Her hair was short, she smoked cigars and decided early never to marry. 
“I wed art. It is my husband, my world, my life dream, the air I breathe. I know nothing else, feel nothing else, think nothing else”
She had special permission, required at the time, to dress in men’s clothing, so she could visit horse fairs, slaughterhouses to study animal anatomy and ride horses astride. 
Her painting, The Horse Fair drew the attention of British and American collectors. Cornelius Vanderbilt bought it and donated it to the New York Metropolitan Museum. People praised her, by saying,’She painted like a man’.
Queen Victoria, who loved animals, invited her to Scotland to paint sheep
At 37 she bought Chateau de By near Fontainebleau as her painting atelier, to show her works and keep her menagerie of animals. Circuses and zoos donated lions to her. There were no restrictions at the time.
First thing, she went out walking in the morning, sketching among the animals, building a rapport with them, always looking to capture their essence. There is nothing sentimental about her animal art. But as time past, the Impressionnistes and other modern artists eclipsed her fame and celebrity. Cezanne had nothing good to say about her
Bonheur lived at Chateau de By first with one companion artist, Nathalie Micas, for 40 years. And later with American portrait painter, Anna Klumpke, who became her biographer and heir. The rundown chateau was sold to 
Katherine Brault, who has meticulously restored it to its former glory. You can read more in Elaine Sciolino’s story for the Smithsonian.If you missed the exhibition, Bonheur’s chateau is now a museum you can visit, by reservation. You can take tea there or even stay overnight in one of the bedrooms. I almost went last summer…but I will try again soon.


  1. What an amazing and skilled painter! I’d never heard of Rosa Bonheur, so once again thanks for teaching me something new. That picture of the ladder in front of the massive painting is a bit mind boggling! A motivated independent woman, who got to wear pants in the 19th century!

    1. Anonymous3:26 AM

      Such an inspiring role model wasn’t she Kirra!

  2. Anonymous5:01 AM

    Thanks for sharing your photos of your life in Paris, and showing us that the arts - music, painting, fashion, culinary, literary - continue to be treasured by the French. Thanks to them, museums, actual books and the opera continue to be appreciated by each new generation.. How wonderful to have so much available in your life on a daily basis!!

  3. My daughter is always telling me to “put on my big girl pants” and I guess Rosa did and look what she accomplished! I was not familiar with her. She most certainly had the talent to capture the animals on a grand scale but look at the painting of the two rabbits so sweet.🗼❤️

    1. Anonymous6:19 AM

      She was more appreciated in the US and the UK, who both bought many more of her works than the French. The French are just discovering Rosa Bonheur. You needed a police permit renewed every 6 months to wear men’s pants back in the day. Hard to imagine

  4. Anonymous7:48 AM

    The Horse Fair was my touchstone at the NY Met. Her paintings have always fascinated me. Thanks for sharing this wonderful show.

  5. Exquisite. I'm such a sucker for animal paintings. It's so hard to capture their soul and she does it. This would be such a magnificent exhibit to see -- despite the crowds (it was similar when I saw the Van Gogh at DIA last week -- oddles of people.) The dogs and rabbits especially get me but so many wonderful paintings. I'd love to visit the Chateau.

    1. Anonymous11:44 AM

      It does look heavenly Jeanie

  6. Anonymous7:57 AM

    I can imagine she inadvertently documented the breeds of animals of that time.

  7. Bonnie L8:49 AM

    Wonderfully informative post, Carol. I only knew “Rosa Bonheur”, from the boat/restaurant of that name on the Quai D’Orsay, and the restaurant at Buttes Chaumont.

    Her art is fabulous, not only the realistic animals, but her portraits. They almost illuminate her subjects from within in a flattering light. Bravo to the D’Orsay for this terrific exhibit, so glad you got to see it.

    1. Anonymous9:25 AM

      OK…so the Paris restaurants/cafes are NOT named after her.
      Rosa Bonheur means Pink Happiness !!

    2. Bonnie L9:58 AM

      Hmm…certainly the literal translation of her name. Try putting ‘rosy happiness’ in a sentence: bonheur rosè??

      Anyhoo, Rosa Bonheur sûr Seine’s website says: “In honor of the artist-painter and freed woman Rosa Bonheur “.

  8. Dorrance9:00 AM

    Wow! Carol…you’ve sent me down a Rosa Bonheur rabbit hole…I can’t get enough! Elaine Sciolino’s piece in the Smithsonian is just wonderful. It would be grand staying at her château. I’m bookmarking it for a future trip. Thank you for this post.

  9. I had never heard of her either..Love her name! Que du bonheur.

  10. Anonymous10:02 AM

    The Horse Fair at the Met played a critical role in my husband’s and my courtship! I will always remember it.

    1. Anonymous11:36 AM

      How interesting? Did you meet cute etc.?

  11. I was unfamiliar with her work but love it. All the animals are so realistic and she is certainly inspirational as a woman breaking glass ceilings. Thanks for continuing to educate me on so much about art and Paris.

    1. Anonymous9:18 AM

      You’re ety welcome Suki.

  12. Anonymous7:58 AM

    What a
    Wonderful story of an amazing woman! I’d never heard of Rosa before but will certainly look for her now-thanks for teaching me something new and fascinating 😊her work is so incredible! I love animals and her paintings are magnificent

    1. Anonymous9:19 AM

      I hope all these retrospectives will help put her name in front of more people🙏

  13. Anonymous9:17 AM

    These animals are spectacular. She captured what few artists can in a lifetime. I can see why you would be excited to see her works. Just magnificent. Lynne

  14. Anonymous11:49 AM


  15. Anonymous12:18 PM

    I prefer the paintings of Berthe Morisot but Rosa Bonheur was certainly an accomplished painter and most certainly gay - interesting how she was able to work as a painter in spite of it at the time.

    1. Anonymous4:49 AM

      They are apples and oranges. Bonheur was an anamaliste. She did almost no portraits or landscapes unless they were of animals. She was much more than ‘accomplished’ in her field. She was a leader, courageous and very innovative. She made her own success.


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