Rosa Bonheur, an animal painter and a unique personality to be rediscovered at the Museum of Fine Arts in Bordeaux

Rosa Bonheur, a good friend of animals of all species who changed the painter’s view of animals, was born in Bordeaux on March 16, 1822. This woman with a unique personality was a real star of his life on both sides of the Atlantic. He fell into oblivion after his death. On the occasion of the bicentenary of his birth, the Bordeaux Museum of Fine Arts presented a major exhibition to him in its Gallery, in collaboration with the Musée d’Orsay where it will be presented next autumn.

Two rabbits seemed to be shaking on the canvas. One smelled a carrot while the other was already looking at us out of the corner of his eye. This painting, Rosa Bonheur painted it when she was just 18 years old. He was spotted in 1841 at the Salon where he participated for the first time.

Rosa Bonheur was born into a family of artists. He was taught drawing by his father Raimond Bonheur and he perfected this most academic training by copying the masters of the Louvre. Very quickly, he went back to painting the animals. In 1848, her brother Auguste, also an artist, represented her as a proud young woman, with her palette and sculptures.

Rosa Kalipay (1822-1899),

Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) has not appeared in France since a retrospective in Bordeaux in 1997. “In 25 years, we’ve discovered works and the history of art has evolved. It’s time to examine these results”, promoted by Sophie Barthélémy, director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Bordeaux. “We want to present the very best of Rosa Bonheur, a productive group of work composed of thousands of works, to offer a new reading. Equally classic.”

Known to her mother at the age of 11, Rosa Bonheur received an emancipatory education from her father, a follower of Saint-Simon. She won’t get married, find out how to lead her life as a free woman in a world where women are dedicated to home life, getting permission to wear pants for her farm work. He lived with a woman, Nathalie Micas, for almost 40 years, in the castle he acquired in Thomery (Seine-et-Marne) thanks to his commercial success. Then at the end of his life with a young American artist Anna Klumpke.

Becoming an icon of feminism, she is not an activist for the cause of women, even if she proves “supporting (their) freedom”. “Rosa Bonheur’s work and personality are similar today on all issues of society, especially on questions of feminism”, featured by Sophie Barthélémy. and “around the animal cause he is very protective”. He was one of the first members of the SPA, which was created in 1845.

Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), A sitting lion and seven studies on his head, nd, graphite drawing (© RMN-Grand Palais (Orsay Museum) / photo Thierry Le Mage)

In her twenties Rosa Bonheur painted agricultural landscapes. “Rosa Bonheur shifts focus, animals are at the center of her worries”said Leïla Jarbouai, chief curator of graphic arts and paintings at the Musée d’Orsay and co-curator of the exhibition, who focused on “materiality of his painting” on the ground. In those Places called Haymaking in Auvergnethe final version on the table “Okay, we didn’t pick it up”, believed Leïla Jarbouai. So we see a sketch“more alive”. For each drawing, the artist conducted several studies, most of which were presented at the exhibition and demonstrated his great drawing skills. He was very close to them and kept them for the rest of his life.

The painting that really made Rosa Bonheur’s career was Plowing the Nivernais, ordered by the State after the gold medal it received at the Salon in 1848. A large painting in which two groups of three pairs of cows ride in turns, their feet sunk in the ground, under the baton of the farmer. To do this, he went to the farm to observe different breeds of cattle. “The photographic side of the work has had a strong impact on its contemporaries”, said Leïla Jarbouai. We could even talk about the cinematographic part, we felt the slow motion and the effort of the animals. We also felt the pain of the confused eye being thrown at us by the cow in the middle of the stage. And if the animals are painted in detail, the men who take them are more obscure.

Rosa Kalipay (1822-1899),

Rosa Bonheur then launched the project of a horse market painting with a remarkable success. For this painting “which he considered his great masterpiece”, says the commissioner, he continues to come out of the field and produce hundreds of drawings and painted studies. The final version, measuring 5 m by 2.4 m, is kept at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, unable to travel. But we see a reduction he makes for a sculpture. And then a rare one, discovered a few months ago, carefully curled up, in the attic of the Château de By where the artist has lived for 40 years. This is the drawing made on the canvas that needs to disappear under the paint (the artist changed his project and therefore changed the canvas). “Not really a detail drawing, a destiny made to act on its movement and decay, a dynamic, synthetic, somewhat abstract drawing”said Leïla Jarbouai.

“With this painting, Rosa Bonheur shows great ambition, giving a sacred theme of power and enthusiasm to a war scene.commented Sandra Buratti-Hasan, deputy director of the Bordeaux Museum of Fine Arts and co-curator of the exhibition.

Rosa Kalipay (1822-1899),

If Rosa Bonheur is remembered as a painter of cattle and sheep, she was also interested in wildlife. The animals he represents, he rubs its shoulders every day. In the courtyard of his Château de By, purchased in 1860, he hosts a real menagerie, dogs, sheep and passing wild animals. She can be seen in a photo lying in the garden next to her lion Fatma.

Of all his animals, he makes realistic images where what is always visible is the eye looking at us. We discovered some in Bordeaux that had never been shown in France because of Rosa Bonheur, at the speed of her success. horse market, now receives orders from abroad. We were struck by its lions, a large deer or a beautiful series of pastel photos of a dog of different characteristics. The desperate look of a hunter dog tied up so short is heartbreaking.

There are these paintings “a very photographic and at the same time idealized feature, it is photographic and it is not at all. There is a form of symbolism”, featured by Sandra Buratti-Hasan. A family of lions where the male lies next to the female and the cubs is rather unreal. A spectacular eagle, frozen in flight, made in 1870 in the midst of the Franco-Prussian War, seems to have aroused the wounds of France.

Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), Untitled, ca.  1892, drawing in cyanotype (© Castle of Rosa Bonheur, Ni, Thomery)

Rosa Bonheur practiced photography of herself and set up a laboratory in her home. Towards the end of his life, he was still experimenting, as shown by cyanotypes (an ancient photographic process with blue prints) made of pencil, watercolor and gouache.

The exhibition also evokes his travels in the Pyrenees or Scotland, and his love of horses, bison and natives of the American West, which he met when passing the 1898 World’s Fair in Buffalo Bill with his Wild West Show.

“Unlike many exhibitions, this one is not the culmination of years of research, it is a launch. When we started our work, there was almost nothing in France at Rosa Bonheur. There were studies across the Atlantic, the Château de By is working on its archives, we try to make students want to write artist theses.Many more things to study,“promised Leïla Jarbouai, evoking the subjects of the photograph, or the work the artist did with her sister, Nathalie Micas or others.

Rosa Kalipay, ggallery of the Museum of Fine Arts in Bordeaux and the exhibition continues at the Museum of Fine Arts in Bordeaux. Garden at town hall, 20 cours d’Albret, and Place du Colonel Raynal, 33000 Bordeaux. Every day except Tuesdays and some public holidays (open July 14 and August 15), 11 am-6pm. Prices (temporary exhibition + permanent collection): € 7 / € 4
From May 18 to September 18, 2022

The exhibition will go to Paris at the Musée d’Orsay from October 18, 2022 to January 15, 2023.

Rosa Kalipaythe exhibition catalog, co-published by Flammarion and the Musée d’Orsay, presents texts by Sophie Barthélémy, Leïla Jarbouai, Sandra Buratti-Hasan and other specialists, 288 pages 211 x 287 mm, € 45

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