Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)

'It is in the rendering of cattle that Mlle Bonheur's skill has always displayed itself.'

Rosa Bonheur was a French painter, but finds a place on these pages because of the popularity of her work in England. She was born in Bordeaux, eldest child of the painter Raymond Bonheur. Her childhood was difficult, the family being poor and her mother dying while she was yet an infant. After failed attempts at being a seamstress and attending school, she found her metier as an artist, studying under her father and at the Louvre. Her two brothers and sister were also artists. She turned to animal painting from age 17, working particularly in the Roule slaughter-house (where she acquired the lifelong habit of dressing in men's clothing). She exhibited at the Salon from 1840, and thereafter exhibited regularly there, gaining a gold medal. She became Director of the Female School of Design in 1849, on the death of her father who had previously held the appointment.

Fame came in 1856, when the dealer Ernest Gambart exhibited her work The Horse Fair in his French Gallery in London. The work was made more popular through an engraving by Thomas Landseer. Thereafter, many of her works were engraved - so popular did they become in England that normally two sizes of engraving were made. She became rather wealthy, and made her home by the Forest of Fontainebleau, where she was able to maintain a menagerie of animals, including lions.

Bonheur's work did concentrate on cattle, but also included a variety of horses and other animals, often in rural settings with peasant farmers and the like. A typical Landscape with Cattle is in the Wakefield Art Gallery, and a rather feeble portrait of her is in Leeds.

Female artists // Other artists