Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)

The Horse Fair, 1853

Image above: The Horse Fair, 1853 Photo ©The National Gallery

Rosa Bonheur was the most well-known woman artist of the nineteenth century. She worked at a time when the art world was dominated by men. From an early age Bonheur spent hours sketching animals in parks on the outskirts of Paris. As women were not permitted to attend the official art schools, she received instruction from her father, a landscape artist. In 1865 Bonheur became the first woman to receive a cross of the French Legion of Honour, a reward for outstanding achievement in her field.

This is a reduced version of a painting now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It shows a lively scene in Paris's horse market. In order to achieve such a level of realism, Bonheur dissected animal parts and attended horse fairs. She attended the fairs dressed as a man, having gained permission in 1852 from the Prefecture of Police to dress in men's clothing. The final version of The Horse Fair was shown in Paris in 1853 and was well received. Following the exhibition, the painting was engraved by Thomas Landseer, and thereby attained widespread popularity in England and several other countries. This version, in the collection of the National Gallery, was finished and signed by Bonheur, but had been begun by the artist's life-long friend, Nathalie Micas.