Happiness is in the field

15 février 2017

Emblematic woman artist, having never hidden her homosexuality, dressed and capped like a man, she defended only one cause: her Art. Fascinated by animals, her painting reflects a desire for reconciliation between humans and nature. She is Rosa Bonheur.

From small needles to the honors of the Elysee

She was the first female officer to receive the Legion of Honor, the first woman member of the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA), the first woman to have had an impresario, singular in many fields, Rosa Bonheur is also and especially the most famous animal painter in the world. Marie-Rosalie Bonheur, of her full name, sported a short haircut, liked to wear trousers, destroyed her health by smoking Havanas, did not ride on an Amazon horse and shared her life with... women. A heresy in the nineteenth-century in France that she passed through like a comet. Independent woman and liberated artist, part of nothing, she was only a small seamstress in her childhood, and will eventually receive Queen Victoria of England, Empress Eugenie de Montijo, President Carnot or Buffalo Bill, going even to be considered the equal of George Sand. 


Superstar during her lifetime, honoring prestigious orders from Europe to the United States, the glory of Rosa Bonheur was quickly extinguished after her disappearance in 1899. Too far from the trends and modern movements of the time, not sufficiently identified to an artistic current, the work of Rosa Bonheur deserves to be known as much as her life.

Calling fields

Happiness, the little Marie-Rosalie did not really was into it during her youth. Born on March 16, 1822, in Bordeaux, a real little tomboy, she spent the first years of her life in the Gironde campaign to gambol in the meadows behind the cows and sheep. She disappears for a long time in the stables, the beasts fascinate her, their eyes especially, the expression of their eyes. She often has to take to her heels, driven by horns judging this curiosity indiscreet. "I can still see the eagerness with which I ran to the meadow where the oxen were grazing, and they nearly got me cornered many times, not suspecting that the little girl they were pursuing had to spend her life admiring the beauty of their coats. I had for the stables a taste more irresistible than ever courtier for the royal or imperial antechamber. You cannot doubt the pleasure I felt in feeling myself licked by some excellent cow we were milking".

His father, Raimond Bonheur, is a professor of drawing, a small artist without ambition and without success, but he encourages his children in this artistic way. Auguste and Juliette became painters while Isidore was a sculptor. Rosa is four years old when she seizes her first brushes, which her father leaves behind. Crayoning ceaselessly on all the supports that her small hand can reach... "Rosalie is an adorable little thing, she is already beginning to show a taste for the Arts, she often catches my pencils and scrawls on the door, and she draws round and innumerable traits" wrote the paternal. She listens to her mother playing the harpsichord, seated on the ground, she takes a sheet of paper and a pair of scissors, then cuts a shepherd, her dog, a cow, a sheep, a tree...

His father having heard that life would be better for an artist in Paris, decides to go in diligence on the capital in 1829, abandoning for a year his wife and children. In 1830, they joined him in his relative misery. Indeed, the poor man lives and prefers to entrust his meager savings to the beggars who haunt the streets. Under the influence of Saint-Simonism, Raimond Bonheur pays little attention to his family and their well-being. His generous ideas pass before him, but also before his family. Meanwhile, Rosa's mother takes the fate of her children in charge, but will die of exhaustion in 1833, before being buried in the common grave of Montmartre. In addition to the loss of her beloved mother, Rosalie suffers from being cut off from nature. Where are the farms? The cows? The fields? The near? The Garonne? As a result of these events, against the advice of her father, at the age of 13 Rosa decides to put an end to her studies and her apprenticeship as a seamstress to give body and soul to drawing and painting.

The Queen of the Salon de Paris

Ambitious, pragmatic and endowed with a well-tempered character, Rosa Bonheur does not intend to practice the Arts of amenity reserved for the feminine sex of its time. Under her insistence, his father finally accepted her in his studio, before entrusting her talent to the workshop Cogniet. She then spent her days pacing the corridors of the Louvre, where she had obtained permission to copy the works she liked. At the same time, she made her first studies of landscapes in the woods and the surrounding forests, approaching the painters of Barbizon. Her favorite subject never left her: the animals, which she began to study seriously in 1839 and soon became her specialty. Admitted to exhibit at the 1841 edition of the Salon de Paris, at only 19 years old, she presented two paintings: "Moutons" (Sheeps) and "Chèvres et lapins" (Goats and rabbits). Her work will be rewarded at the Salon of 1845 with a third class medal (bronze) and at the Salon of 1848 with a medal of 1st class (gold) for her work "Bœufs et taureaux, race du Cantal" (Oxen and bulls, breed of Cantal). Although already known, Rosa Bonheur gained fame when, in 1849, she produced a painting commissioned by the State, entitled "Le Labourage nivernais", exhibited today at the Musée d'Orsay. Its impressive dimensions (1.34 m by 2.60 m) were judged exorbitant for a “small piece” of woman measuring only 1.50 m.


(Le labourage Nivernais, 1849)

She definitively establishes her reputation at the Salon of 1853 by presenting "Le Marché aux chevaux", an even more gigantic canvas (2.44 m by 5.06 m), representing the horse market in Paris. Symbolizing the strength of raw animal, this painting represents “percherons”, hardly mastered by young boys. Inspired by the works of Coysevox or Géricault, horses are treated naturalistically through an ultra-realistic rendering of movements and anatomical details. This piece of art is the culmination of the studies carried out by Rosa Bonheur for 18 months in the stables and livestock markets of the Paris region. This painting exhibited in 1853 received a triumphant reception from the critics and was widely diffused thanks to the engraving. Her painting "has the rare and singular privilege of raising nothing but praise in all the camps. It is truly a painting of man, nervous, solid, and full of frankness". Solicited by orders from all parts, even on the other side of the Atlantic, Rosa Bonheur has the luxury of refusing and only painting what pleases her. "I just had to finish a study, any one, and my drawer filled with gold"


(Le marché aux chevaux, 1853)

Happiness is freedom

What pleases her, Mademoiselle Bonheur will do so throughout her life. Faithful to her independent character, she celebrates animals and describes in a realistic style the work in the fields and the rural life of small France. Braving the prohibitions linked to the morality of her time, she nevertheless had the skill to lead a life against the current of many conventions without ever making scandal. By developing in her Art an academic approach even when women were not admitted to the Conservatory. "What a nuisance to be limited in her gestures when you're a girl!" She obtains a cross-dressing permit issued by the Prefecture of Paris in order to wear trousers. She shared her affective life with two women painters, Nathalie Micas and, then, after her death in 1889, Anna Klumpke, an American. Even if she transgressed the social morality of the time, this did not prevent Rosa Bonheur from being celebrated throughout France, Great Britain and America where she was even considered the world's greatest animal painter.


Established since 1589 with Nathalie Micas, in a vast house on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau in By, in the heights of Thomery (77), Rosa Bonheur has set up her studio there. She lodges her numerous and dear animals, sheep, deer, hinds, wild boars, sheep, horses, oxen and even a couple of lions! Thanks to Rosa, the small commune of Seine-et-Marne sees some beautiful world. In June 1864, the Empress Eugenie de Montijo visited her twice to give her the knight badges of the Legion of Honor in 1865, making her the first woman to receive this distinction. In 1894, she was also the first woman promoted officer in that order. In 1889 William Frederick Cody visited the lands of By. More commonly known as the Buffalo Bill, this mythical figure of the Conquest of the West ordered his portrait before offering an integral dress of Sioux to the artist. For her part, Rosa Bonheur sees some country, she travels to Belgium, where she meets Queen Victoria, and is even part of the French delegation invited to the World Exhibition of 1893 in Chicago.


(Buffalo Bill, 1889)

She disappears at the age of 77, following a pulmonary congestion contracted after a walk in the forest. Despite the need during her entire career, which was kept away from the main artistic currents, Rosa Bonheur's artwork quickly suffered a vertiginous loss of its value in the decades that followed. Cezanne's modernism repudiated her style of painting and it was not until the end of the 20th century that her paintings had a slight renaissance of notoriety following the publication of new biographies. An author of exceptional paintings, considered one of the greatest animal painters in history, she especially opened the way to the beginnings of feminism proving that happiness is freedom!

Alice Locoge, animal and man intimately linked

Inspired by the natural environment and animals in particular, Alice Locoge began to develop her pictorial language by experimenting with techniques, shapes, textures and materials offered by this vast and complex subject. She develops a phantasmagoric world that would be the hyphen, the link, the reminder that human and animal are only two expressions of the same truth, intimately linked like life and dream. Her field of study also turns in the direction of the human body. Deliberately placing herself on the frontier of imagination and reality, abstraction and figuration, the artist draws on her inner self to express on the canvas the intensity of the natural clues present in each being.