Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Rosa Bonheur: Pathfinder for Women Artists

 Did you know that March is Women's History Month, or as I prefer to call it, Women's Art History Month. Actually, they're not that different in terms of the timeline of the extension of women's rights, including attending art painting or limited subjects acceptable for a woman to paint, such as babies, children and mothers. 

France was much slower than other European countries in eliminating the binding of new concepts about women artists. As you might imagine, there were a few women artists, who decided that it was time. Among the few was Rosa Bonheur, (1822-1899).


Bonheur would spend hours sketching, but had trouble learning to read. Her mother helped her by having Bonheur sketch animals as a means of learning her alphabet. It is important to her story because it was learning about animals that would lead to her fame.

She studied anatomy and worked at a veterinarian college dissecting animals. Her first great success was a commission by the French government titled, "Plowing in the Nivernais." 


Six years later, she gained international fame with her very large (8' x 16') painting, "The Horse Fair." Bonheur traveled to Scotland, England and the USA where she showed her works at the World's Columbian Exposition.  


For most of her adult life, Bonheur worked and lived in her own way. She chose to wear pants and cut her hair short with permission from the police because she worked in the stockyards and auctions studying animals. Women artists from other countries were highly impressed with Bonheur's freedom and took her lead back to their own countries with determination to let their work speak for them.


Today, women artists can paint any subject, indoors or outdoors and attend art school with no difference in the curriculum. Much of the extension to liberating the constrictions for art predate women securing the vote. Could it be that art was a precursor to politics when women's art showed the same degree of talent as men?

Note: (Her ability to paint animals includes the sweet little one at the bottom)


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