Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822-1899)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Barbara and William Hyland, Monterey, California
Born in Bordeaux but raised in Paris, Rosa Bonheur showed a talent for drawing animals early in life. Her father, Raymond Bonheur, a drawing teacher, provided most of her instruction and encouraged her to pursue a professional career despite the restrictions and prejudices to be faced in an art world dominated by men. She enhanced her skill in drawing and painting animals by studying pets, performing dissections, and visiting slaughterhouses.
At the same time, Bonheur became interested in plein-air painting, taking her oils and easel into the fields to create fresh landscapes. She first exhibited in the Salon in 1841 and gained greater fame and state commissions later in the decade. Her enormously popular works provided a reassuring image of the continuity of agrarian life. Never an official member of the Fontainebleau school of landscape painters, she nevertheless settled in the Fontainebleau forest in 1860. When, in 1865, Bonheur received France’s highest award, membership in the Legion of Honor, she was the first woman to be so honored.