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Author photo. From "Lives of Girls Who Became Famous," Sarah Bolton, 1914
Project Gutenberg

From "Lives of Girls Who Became Famous," Sarah Bolton, 1914 Project Gutenberg

Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899)

Author of Rosa Bonheur: Selected works from American collections

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Marie-Rosalie Bonheur, known as Rosa, was born in Bordeaux, France, to a family of artists. Her father Raymond Bonheur was a landscape and portrait painter and her mother Sophie Bonheur was a music teacher. Bonheur's younger siblings included the painters Auguste Bonheur and Juliette Bonheur, and the sculptor Isidore Jules Bonheur. She began to draw and sketch at an early age. When Rosa was six years old, the family moved to a semi-rural property outside Paris. She was considered a disruptive student and was expelled from numerous schools. Eventually, when she was 12, her father decided to train her as an artist. She made studies of domesticated animals from life, copied paintings at the Louvre, studied animal anatomy at slaughterhouses, and performed dissections of animals at the École nationale vétérinaire d'Alfort. She became an independent woman and outspoken feminist who supported herself and -- like George Sand, whom she admired -- wore men's clothing and smoked in public. She regularly exhibited her animal paintings and sculptures at the Paris Salon from 1841 to 1853. In 1845, she won a third prize, and in 1848, a gold medal. She received a commission from the French government for Ploughing in the Nivernais (1849), her first big success. Her most famous work was The Horse Fair (1853), which brought her international fame, especially in England. She received many honors for her work, becoming the first woman to be awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1865. She bought the Château de By, an estate near Fontainebleau, and settled there with Natalie Micas, her lifelong companion, and a menagerie of real animals.
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