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Bonheur, Rosa (1822-1899)  
 
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Gambart made engravings of Bonheur's work, including The Horse Fair, and sold them in England, Europe, and the United States. Bonheur became one of the most renowned painters of the time. Little girls, such as Anna Klumpke in the United States, even had dolls in her likeness, much as American girls played with Shirley Temple dolls during the 1940s and 1950s.

In 1855, the same year in which Bonheur completed The Horse Fair, she also finished Haymaking at Auvergne. It was shown in the Paris Exposition Universelle that year and hung as a pendant to Plowing on the Nivernais and won the gold medal.

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The monetary success Bonheur achieved allowed her to purchase Château By, a house and farm, near the Fontainebleu Forest in 1860. She retired there with Nathalie and Mme Micas during the same year. The three women divided the labor so that Mme Micas was the housekeeper, Nathalie prepared Bonheur's canvases and negotiated with art dealers, and Bonheur was the professional artist who provided income for the household.

During the years that Bonheur lived at By, she painted steadily and entertained celebrities. In 1865 she received a visit from Empress Eugénie who awarded the artist the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. Bonheur was the first woman to be singled out for the distinguished award established by Napoleon to recognize the achievements of French citizens.

During the last decade of Bonheur's life, she continued to paint. The most famous work of this period is the portrait she painted of Col. William F. Cody astride his horse. Bonheur had seen his Wild West show at the Paris Exposition of 1889 and at that time made sketches for his portrait. The sketches became the basis for her painting entitled The Buffalo Hunt (1889) and the image became the center of Cody's publicity campaign.

Great sadness enveloped Bonheur's life when Nathalie died during the same year. Her partner's ashes were buried along with those of her mother in the tomb Bonheur had purchased on the death of Mme Micas in 1875. Bonheur's grief overtook her to such a degree that it was very difficult for her to work or see friends. When the young artist Anna Klumpke first met her in 1895, Bonheur was not able to visit with her.

By 1893, however, Bonheur had recovered sufficiently to visit the United States to see the Women's Building at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. When she returned to France, she was better able to talk with Anna Klumpke, the portrait painter from Boston, who had earned recognition for her work in France.

When the two women renewed acquaintance at By in 1895, Bonheur was 77 and Klumpke was 43. Over a brief time, the two women became captivated with each other and Bonheur offered Klumpke a living arrangement that they both signed on August 11, 1898. Bonheur agreed to build a studio for Klumpke at By and Klumpke agreed to paint portraits of Bonheur and to write the older artist's biography. Klumpke completed three portraits before Bonheur's death on May 25, 1899.

Bonheur, as she had planned, was interred in the tomb she had purchased at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. The artist's career was celebrated with a retrospective exhibition at Galerie Georges Petit during 1900.

Although opposed by both her family and Bonheur's, Anna Klumpke managed Bonheur's estate the rest of her life. Klumpke painted a final portrait of Bonheur in 1902 and published Rosa Bonheur, sa vie et son oeuvre in 1908. In 1924, Klumpke dedicated the Musée Rosa Bonheur at By and established the Rosa Bonheur Memorial Art School to offer instruction to women. Two decades later, in 1940, Klumpke published Memoirs of an Artist. She died in 1942 and her ashes were entombed alongside Bonheur's in Père Lachaise cemetery three years later.

During the nineteenth century art was considered a lady's pastime to be pursued at home, but thanks to her father's influence, Bonheur understood her calling as a profession and made her livelihood from it. While Bonheur never referred to herself as a lesbian, she certainly understood her relationships with Nathalie Micas and Anna Klumpke to be a subversive form of matrimony. These liaisons rejected the patriarchal institution of marriage in favor of a matriarchal life in partnership. Bonheur used her last will and testament to force legal recognition of her right to transfer her property to another woman.

Despite Bonheur's popularity, her work was not universally acclaimed by contemporary critics. This was, no doubt, due, at least in part, to her lifestyle and her feminism. Quite apart from the considerable quality of her work, Bonheur remains important as an extraordinarily successful artist who rejected the patriarchal model of life and lived with the women she loved.

Ray Anne Lockard

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    Bibliography
   

Ashton, Dora, and Denise Browne Hare. Rosa Bonheur: A Life and a Legend. New York: Viking Press, 1981.

Boime, Albert. "The Case of Rosa Bonheur: Why Should a Woman Want to be More Like a Man?" Art History 4 (1981): 384-409.

Bonheur, Rosa. Reminiscences of Rosa Bonheur. Theodore Stanton, ed. New York: D. Appleton, 1910; rpt. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1976.

Chadwyck, Whitney. "The Fine Art of Gentling Horses and Women and Rosa Bonheur in Victorian England." The Body Imaged: The Human Form and Visual Culture Since the Renaissance. Kathlenne Alder and Marcia Pointon, eds. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. 89-107.

Digne, Danielle. Rosa Bonheur ou l'insolence: L'Histoire d'une vie, 1822-1899. Paris: Denol/Gonthier, 1980.

Klumpke, Anna. Memoirs of an Artist. Lilian Whiting, ed Boston: Wright and Potter, 1940.

_____. Rosa Bonheur, sa vie, son oeuvre. Paris: Flammarion, 1908. Translated as The Artist's (Auto)biography: Rosa Bonheur by Anna Klumpke. Gretchen Van Slyke, trans. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.

Ribemont, Francis. Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899). Exhibition catalog. Bordeaux: Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, 1997.

Saslow, James M. "Disagreeably Hidden Construction and Constriction of the Lesbian Body in Rosa Bonheur's Horse Fair." The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History. Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard, eds. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. 187-206.

Van Slyke, Gretchen. "Addressing the Self: Cost, Gender and Autobiographical Discourse in l'Abbé de Choisy and Rosa Bonheur." Autobiography, Historiography, Rhetoric: A Festschrift in Honor of Frank Paul Bowman. Mary Donaldson-Evans, Lucienne Frappier-Mazur, and Gerald Prince, eds. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994. 287-302.

_____. "L'Autobiographie de Rosa Bonheur: Un testament matrimonial." Romanticisme 85.3 (1994): 37-45.

_____. "Does Genius Have a Sex? Rosa Bonheur's Reply." French-American Review 63. 21 (Winter 1992): 12-23.

_____. "Reinventing Matrimony: Rosa Bonheur, Her Mother, and Her Friends." Womens Studies Quarterly 19. 3-4 (Fall-Winter 1991): 59-77.

Weisberg, Gabriel. Rosa Bonheur: All Nature's Children. New York: Dahesh Museum, 1998.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Lockard, Ray Anne  
    Entry Title: Bonheur, Rosa  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated August 30, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/arts/bonheur_r.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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