Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899)
Tigers at rest,
Signed and dated 1887,
8½ x 11 inches.
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This exquisite watercolour shows Rosa Bonheur's peerless draftmanship, meticulous observation and understanding of the tiger's anatomy. A very fine example in excellent, original condition.
Rosa Bonheur (christened Marie-Rosalie Bonheur) is widely considered to be the most acclaimed female artist and sculptor of the 19th Century and one of the most accomplished animal painters of her generation.
She was born in Bordeaux on 16 March 1822, the eldest child in a family of artists. Her father, Raymond Bonheur, was a landscape and portrait painter and a friend of Francisco Goya. He provided her early training and she showed promise from a young age and a talent for the accurate rendering of animals. In her teens, she observed animals at farms and livestock markets and also minutely examined animal anatomy by visiting abattoirs and attending dissections at the National Veterinary Institute in Paris. Additionally, she developed her technique by meticulously studying and copying the works of the old masters at the Louvre, including Rubens and Salvatore Rosa.
By the age of nineteen, her work was accepted by the Paris salon where she continued to exhibit until 1855. Her work rapidly grew in popularity and demand stretched to Britain and America. Perhaps her most famous work, The Horse Fair (exhibited 1853) went on to sell for a record sum to the American Magnate, Cornelius Vanderbilt. He later donated it to the Metropolitan Museum in New York (which you can see here).
In her personal life, Rosa Bonheur cut something of an eccentric figure as she was often dressed in the attire of a French peasant with a loose smock, heavy boots and cropped hair. This was in part a practical necessity as sketching animals in farmyards and the outdoors was ill-suited to flowing Victorian garb but also an expression of her individuality. It drew derision and even outrage from the public to such a degree that she obtained written permission to wear men's slacks from the French government.
The popularity of her work brought great financial reward and in 1860 she bought a Chateau and estate at By, near Fontainebleu. She lived here with Mme Micas and her daughter, Natalie, who was Rosa's life-long companion. The mother and daughter attended to the day-to-day running of the estate which allowed Rosa to focus on her painting and also to develop a small menagerie including lions. They received many prestigious visitors, including Empress Eugénie who awarded Rosa with the Légion d'honneur (the first time it had been bestowed upon a woman).
Throughout the 1870s and 1880 she produced many studies and paintings of lions and tigers, often observed on her own estate. She also became increasingly interested in the Wild West, having seen "Buffalo Bill" Cody's show at the Paris Exposition of 1889. She befriended him and painted his well-known portait astride a horse .
In her final years, following the death of Micas, she formed a close friendship with the American painter, Anne Klumpke who was to later write Rosa Bonheur, sa vie et son oeuvre (1908).