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Rosa Bonheur

French, 1822–1899

Le Marché aux Chevaux (The Horse Fair), ca. 1852

Oil on canvas
10 1/2 x 25 inches (26.7 x 63.5 cm)
Elisabeth H. Gates Fund, 1927

Rosa Bonheur was admired in her own time as one of the best animal painters of the day. This is a study for her most famous painting, The Horse Fair. While the study is quite small, the final painting is 8 x 16 feet.

Horse fairs were opportunities for dealers to show off their stock to potential buyers, and were not normally attended by women. To avoid the taunts and comments a woman could receive if she were seen at a horse fair, Bonheur applied for permission from the prefecture of police to dress in men's clothing, which she received in 1852.

Bonheur's love of animals is reflected in the way she successfully conveys the power and majesty of the horses, which their handlers struggle to keep under control.

The Horse Fair was received very enthusiastically when it was shown in Paris in 1853, and Bonheur was the first woman to receive a cross of the French Legion of Honor, a reward for outstanding achievement in her field. The honor was bestowed upon her personally in 1865 by Empress Eugenie, wife of emperor Napoleon III, to show, in the empress's words, that "genius has no sex."


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