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Rosa Bonheur

Bronze sculptor 1822 - 1899

Rosa Bonheur was born on March 16th 1822 in Bordeaux, France. The sister of fellow professional sculptor Isidore Jules Bonheur, Rosa was widely acclaimed as an animal painter who had been influenced by the earlier work of English artist Landseer.

At an early age, Rosa was enrolled in a small private school for boys and was, unsurprisingly, the only girl there. She was actually expelled from the school because of her ‘unruly tomboyish’ behaviour and adopted the unusual custom of dressing in men’s clothing. It wasn’t long before she forced herself in to the world of sculpture, which up until this point had been considered a man’s work. She even performed dissections of animals to gain the intimate knowledge of their bone and muscle structure, just like Fremiet and Barye were doing.

Her habit of dressing in waistcoat and trousers continued throughout her lifetime and she actually obtained the permission of the Perfect of Police in Paris in order to continue doing so. On one occasion, while attired in a dress, she was arrested by a Gendarme, who mistook her for a man masquerading as a woman!

At the age of 19, she submitted her first painting to the Salon in 1841. The following year, she submitted her first sculpture, a terracotta model of a shorn sheep grazing. In 1843, the Salon saw the plaster model of her bull, which was later cast in bronze by her brother-in-law Hippolyte Peyrol.

That same year, she was awarded a Third Class medal at the Salon for her exhibit of three paintings and two sculptures and also a State Commission for a painting. She continued to exhibit her paintings, gaining huge acclaim as an artist, but it wasn’t until the 1848 Salon that she truly started exhibiting more sculptures.

Only thirteen of her sculptures have survived and only seven were actually exhibited in her lifetime, but her influence has been far reaching. She was an excellent patron and example to the numerous young American female sculptors working and studying in Paris in the late 19th Century. She was also patronised and befriended by Queen Victoria when she visited Scotland for the first time in 1853.

Unfortunately, she was mostly dismissed by the art world in France during her lifetime, but that didn’t stop her gaining the respect and admiration of many from the rest of Europe, England and the United States. She left Paris in 1860, settling in the Forest of Fontaineblue, where she was surrounded by her animals, including wild lions and bears, until her death in 1899. Her exhibits and awards include the Great Exhibit of London in 1862, the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1867 and the Chicago Words Colombian Exposition in 1893. She also received the Cross of an Officer of the Legion of Honour before her death.