National Museum of Women in the Arts
Rosa Bonheur
March 16 1822 - May 25 1899
Joseph B. Pratt, Portrait of Rosa Bonheur (after Consuélo Fould and Rosa Bonheur), 1895. Etching on chine collé. 17 x 12 1/2 inches (43 x 32 cm). National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC, USA. Gift of Milton M. and Ingrid R. Rose
Place of Birth:
Phonetic Spelling:
roh-zah boh-nerr
Work Type/Media:
Painting, Sculpture
Artistic Role(s):
Painter, Sculptor
Artist's Biography:
Born in Bordeaux, Rosa Bonheur received her earliest training from her father, Raymond, a minor landscape painter, who encouraged his daughter’s interest in depicting animals. In 1829 she moved with her family to Paris, where her mother died four years later. Raymond Bonheur’s adherence to the teachings of Henri de Saint-Simon, a rationalist and moralist whose theories questioned traditional gender divisions in labor, created a domestic atmosphere of unqualified support in which Rosa Bonheur thrived.

While unconventional in her ambitions and personal conduct, Bonheur was traditional in her working method. She studied her subjects carefully and produced many preparatory sketches before she applied paint to canvas. Bonheur’s reputation grew steadily in the 1840s; she regularly exhibited her animal paintings and sculptures at the Paris Salon from 1841 to 1853. The Salon favored traditional work, and most artists sought to exhibit at the annual shows as it was the primary way for their work to be publicly seen. In 1845, Bonheur won a third prize and in 1848 a gold medal.

Because of this official recognition, the government of the Second Republic awarded Bonheur a commission. The resulting painting, Plowing in Nivernais (Musée National du Château de Fontainebleau), exhibited at the Salon of 1849, firmly established the artist’s career. She later won international acclaim with her monumental painting, The Horse Fair (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), shown at the Salon of 1853. In 1865, Empress Eugénie visited Bonheur at her studio in the forest of Fontainebleau to award her the cross of the Legion of Honor; after The Horse Fair was exhibited in England, Queen Victoria ordered a private viewing of it at Windsor Castle. Bonheur left a legacy as a nineteenth century woman who achieved a successful career and would serve as a role model for future generations of women artists.

Other Occupation(s):
Director (Administration)
Place(s) of Residence:
Where Trained/Schools:
Private lessons
Related Visual Artists:
daughter and student of Raymond Bonheur sister of Juliette Peyrol Bonheur teacher of Henry Cross friend of Anna Klumpke friend of Consuélo Fould influenced Louise Abbéma
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Order of Merit for Fine Arts, House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, London, England (1885) Honorary President, Union des Femmes Peintres et Sculpteurs, Paris, France (1884) Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, Republic of France, Paris, France (1865) Gold Medal, Le Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France (1848) Third Prize, Le Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France (1845)
Earliest exhibition:
Le Salon, Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, France (1841)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Four Centuries of Women's Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts
Rosa Bonheur: Selected Works from American Collections
Artist retrospective(s):
Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, France (1897)
Related places
Fontainebleau (died at)
Sheep by the Sea
The Highland Raid