Artists in 60 Seconds: Rosa Bonheur

Image source:; Used with permission
The Horse Fair (1853-55), Oil on canvas, 96 1/4 x 199 1/2 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image source:

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:



Date and Place of Birth:


March 16, 1822, Bordeaux, France



Rosa had the great good fortune of being born to an artistic (and rather eccentric) couple. Her father, Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, was an artist, art teacher and ardent supporter of independent thought in his children, while her mother was a music teacher. Papa gave Rosa, brothers Auguste and Isadore, and sister Juliette (all of whom also became artists) art lessons, and kept a small barnyard containing a few assorted animals and poultry on their semi-rural property on the outskirts of Paris.


Her fascination with, and meticulous rendering of animals fit in perfectly with Realism and popular trends in nature studies. Rosa was a hit with the public, and exhibited yearly at the Salon beginning in 1841. Her sales were brisk due partly to the fact that everyone had heard of her: she earned a living as an artist, won awards, smoked in public, wore overalls (she needed a special license to do so) and visited slaughterhouses to study animal anatomy. In short, she was a notorious woman.


After her 1853 masterpiece The Horse Fair (Le Marché aux Chevaux) became world famous, two interesting things happened. Rosa began (1) receiving honors, including the Légion d’honneur (from the Empress Eugénie, in 1865), previously only held by men and (2) retreating from the limelight. She bought an estate near the Forest of Fontainebleau and settled there with her life-long companion, Nathalie Micas (and, after Micas' death, American painter Anna Klumpke), and her menagerie of animals.


Though she is best known for being one of the most faithful animaliers (painters of animals) to ever hold a brush, Rosa also worked in sculpture, casting bronzes (of animals, of course) early in her career. Today she is also revered for being an outspoken feminist, and gaining female visual artists more equal status.

Her nonconformity was outrageous for 19th-century Paris but, because she was so successful and independently wealthy, she forced many to reconsider the "role" of women artists.

Important Works:


  • Ploughing in Nivernais (Labourages Nivernais), 1850
  • The Horse Fair, 1853-55
  • Haymaking in the Auvergne, 1855
  • Col. William F. Cody, 1889

Date and Place of Death:


May 25, 1899, Fontainebleu, France

How To Pronounce "Bonheur":



Quotes From Rosa Bonheur:


  • I preferred to preserve my name. - Bonheur's standard reply when questioned as to why she hadn't married


  • To his doctrines I owe my great and glorious ambition for the sex to which I proudly belong and whose independence I shall defend until my dying day. - written about her father, the only art teacher under whom she, a female, had been allowed to study

Sources and Further Reading


  • Ashton, Dore. Rosa Bonheur: A Life and a Legend.
    New York : Viking, 1981.


  • Klumpke, Anna; van Slyke, Gretchen (trans.). Rosa Bonheur: The Artist's (Auto)biography.
    Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press; Reprint edition, 2001.


  • Langdon, Helen. "Bonheur, Rosa"
    The Oxford Companion to Western Art.
    Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford University Press, 2001.

    review of Grove Art Online.


    • Price, Olive M. Rosa Bonheur, Painter of Animals.
      Champaign : Garrard Pub. Co., 1972.


    Go to Artist Profiles: Names beginning with "B" or Artist Profiles: Main Index

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    Esaak, Shelley. "Artists in 60 Seconds: Rosa Bonheur." ThoughtCo, Feb. 23, 2016, Esaak, Shelley. (2016, February 23). Artists in 60 Seconds: Rosa Bonheur. Retrieved from Esaak, Shelley. "Artists in 60 Seconds: Rosa Bonheur." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 19, 2017).