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Saturday, January 29, 2022

Kramer

 "A loathsome brute... I cannot look away." 

This was a fun drawing and a chance to learn Procreate on my iPad. It's for sale as an NFT on Versum.xyz, which is an eco-friendly NFT art trading site. The idea of trading NFTs seemed a little abstract to me at first, but I like that artists can collect royalties on subsequent resales of their art. That is solid. 

Kramer drawing
Kramer, digital drawing by Ciana Pullen 2022. For sale here.


Saturday, December 12, 2020

Inktober Day 8: Rosa Bonheur

 
Highland Raid, by Rosa Bonheur, 1860. (image via).
 
So famous was Rosa Bonheur in her lifetime that only half her legacy is her art; the other half is the legend of her remarkable yet quiet personal life. Foreign royalty greeted her her with parades, little girls the world over could buy Rosa Bonheur dolls, and schoolhouses on both sides of the Atlantic taught her life story in textbooks. I'll begin this post with an excerpt from one such children's book:
 
“In a simple home in Paris could have been seen, in 1829, Raymond Bonheur and his little family : Rosa, seven years old, August, Isadore, and Juliette. He was a man of fine talent in painting, but obliged to spend his time in giving drawing lessons to support his children. His wife, Sophie, gave lessons on the piano, going from house to house all day long, and sometimes sewing half the night, to earn a little more for the necessities of life. 
Hard work and poverty soon bore its usual fruit, and the tired young mother died in 1833. The three oldest children were sent to board with a plain woman, “La mère Cathérine,” in the Champs Elysées, and the youngest was placed with relatives. For two years this good woman cared for the children, sending them to school, though she was greatly troubled because Rosa persisted in playing in the woods of the Bois de Bologne, gathering her arms full of daisies and marigolds, rather than to be shut up in a schoolroom. “I never spent an hour of fine weather indoors during the whole of the two years,” she has often said since those days.” --from Lives of Girls Who Became Famous by Sarah Knowles Bolton, 1886 (available for free online beginning p. 216. It's a surprisingly fun read.) 
 
The Bonheurs had fallen from middle class and had become so poor they buried Rosa's mother in a pauper's grave. Raymond had abandoned the family the previous year to join a spiritual commune called the St. Simeons (he would soon return once the group disbanded). Rosa admired her father, but after seeing her mother work herself to death while her father devoted himself to his ideals, eleven-year-old Rosa vowed never to marry or have children. About her father, she later wrote, “He had grand ideas and had he not been obliged to give lessons for our support, he would have been more known, and today acknowledged with other masters.” About her mother she wrote, "Everything good and beautiful I've done during my 76 years on this earth has been her inspiration." 

When Rosa was expelled from the boarding school where her father taught, she was apprenticed to a seamstress so she could support herself. She hated it so much she began physically wasting away and her father was forced to take her back. At this point he didn't know what to do so he took a hands-off approach to allow her to explore which path in life naturally appealed to her. He watched as she spent hour upon hour drawing and assisting him in his studio, so content that her health returned. She was so talented that he took a leap of faith, resigned from the boarding school and began teaching her seriously. She thrived.

M. Bonheur remarried and was able to reunite all the kids at home; he and Rosa's stepmother then had three more children. It turned out that all of the Bonheur children were incredibly talented and happy to dedicate themselves to learning, with Rosa, the oldest, helping to train them. With the beloved second Mrs. Bonheur managing the household like a pro, the family was just as poor but much more happy. They became involved in a spiritual movement called Saint-Simonianism that encouraged proto-socialist communal living, gender equality and Christian brotherly love in the face of the industrial age alienation. They also believed society would progress through science and industry, not theocracy.

Money and reputation came slowly. The Bonheurs were a family phenomenon and would remain so their whole lives (though Rosa would become the Michael Jackson of the group). They were all animal and landscape painters under the same teacher, so their work was naturally compared with their that of their siblings. With each individual success the rising tide lifted all ships. Isadore would grow up to become an animal sculptor while Juliette became an animal painter and painting teacher. She would go on to marry the owner of a foundry who became part of the family team. Auguste became a succcessful animal and landscape painter like Rosa, though never quite as famous; their styles were extremely similar but his talent for depicting dazzling naturalistic sunlight was a cut above Rosa's, in my opinion, and seemed to predict the work of the Impressionists. Rosa was more of a "moody weather" virtuosa, as evidenced in the piece above, Highland Raid.
 
 
Sketch of Five Bulls with Color Notes, by Rosa Bonheur, undated. (image via).

The Bonheur kids needed models to work from, so they all saved up to buy a shared family sheep. By then they'd moved to a sixth floor tenement apartment in Paris, so they had to keep it on the roof. They made a little rooftop garden for it, and every single day they hoisted it over their shoulders, carried it down six flights of stairs, walked it to a local field to graze, then schlepped it back up to the roof.  

Rosa went in search of every animal model she could find, but in the city it wasn't easy. She had to travel alone to farms and forests outside the city, which she did on foot, usually returning home wet, muddy and exhausted. The slaughterhouse was closer so she frequently sketched the animals in their holding pens, though she felt terrible for the them. She found work horses to sketch in the stalls of Paris's municipal carriage company. A nearby veterinary institute also allowed her to carry out dissections; her notes and diagrams were so detailed that even as an old woman she would continue to refer back to them. 

This was all completely inappropriate (and dangerous) for a young woman, especially unchaperoned. Bonheur cropped her hair short and began wearing men's clothing and, to paraphrase to a children's book from 1886, "she remained completely unbothered by the men working, because the world can always tell when a girl means business and treats her accordingly." (That's not remotely true in general but it's a nice sentiment). Though woke modern blogs simply state that Bonheur wore pants because she was a lesbian and rebellious, elsewhere I've encountered some increasingly elaborate explanations for her wearing pants-- that she disguised herself as a boy so she could work unmolested, that she needed them for hiking, that she was short on time and money, that it was to prove women artists were as good as men. I'm guessing it was really a both/and situation. It's also possible the St. Simeonist clothing and gender equality recommendations influenced Rosa, as her father also wore the sect's sturdy boots and practical garb. Up to half of most bios on Bonheur seem to be about her pants, and she would not have approved. "The suit I wear is my work attire, and nothing else. The epithets of imbeciles have never bothered me..." Ouch, Rosa. 
 
Speaking of ambiguous lesbianism, Rosa (then 14) met fellow artist Nathalie Micas (12) when Rosa's father was commissioned to paint Nathalie, who was the daughter of some close family friends. I also read an alternate account of their meeting: after Rosa's mother died Mrs. Micas, who had been a close friend of Sophie Bonheur, took Rosa into her home and paid off Raymond's debts. Over the years Nathalie and Rosa formed such a bond that Nathalie's family begged M. Bonheur to let the girls live together. Rosa did eventually move in with Nathalie and her mother. The couple remained devoted to each other for the next 40 years, until Nathalie's death.
 
Historians aren't completely sure about the nature of their relationship, though. Evidence is very heavily in the favor of Rosa and Nathalie being lesbians, but then again Rosa herself, when pressed about rumors, said she wasn't. She joked about having no affinity for men except the bulls she painted, but in more serious reflections she spoke of herself as having remained "pure," as never having married because no man fell in love with her. Victorian women often formed unromantic companionships to help each other through life, so many of Rosa's contemporaries readily took her at her word despite rumors. Yet Rosa and Nathalie could easily be characterized as bravely living a completely open lesbian life, and writers often have done so. If social conditions had been more familiar and accepting, who knows what she'd have said, or even how she'd have identified in her own mind? In her adulthood Rosa did write, “Had I been a man, I would have married her, and nobody could have dreamed up all those silly stories. I would have had a family, with my children as heirs, and nobody would have any right to complain.”

As Rosa's training progressed her father sent her to the Louvre to copy the great paintings (a normal part of art education back then-- Rosa also sold the copies to help support her family), with an industriousness that caught the notice of many. Bonheur's favorites at the Louvre were Poussin and Rubens; she also loved Dutch animal painter Paulus Potter, who the Académie in all earnesntess had dubbed "the Raphael of cows." Even so, animal painting was near the bottom of the formal hierarchy of art genres. An "animalier," as Rosa had chosen to be, could make a living but never garner respect as a great artist. But confident enough in her skills to invest in herself, Rosa also studied with artist Léon Cogniet, an excellent teacher by all accounts.
 
She began painting seriously at 19 and showing painting and sculpture at the yearly Salons. Beginning with an unremarkable little picture of two bunnies nibbling carrots, each year's showing was dramatically better than her last. One of her more successful early showings was a bronze sculpture, Shorn Ewe. Her father had urged her to sign her first works with his name, considering it a favor because his name recognition would help them sell much better, but Rosa refused. She considered using her own name to be befitting her mother's memory (and Rosa rarely capitulated to anything she truly didn't want to do). 

The breakthrough of her career came in 1849 when she was 27. Her previous painting of cattle had won a gold medal at the Salon of 1848 so the government commissioned a larger cattle painting: Labourage Nivernais, or Ploughing in Nevers. The piece was a monumental canvas that functioned as a grand history painting and positioned the oxen as mythical heroes. This wasn't what anyone expected. This wasn't Bonheur the animalier, but Bonheur the grand allegorical painter. The Académie were amazed and impressed.


Ploughing in Nevers (Labourage Nivernais), by Rosa Bonheur, 1849, 1.35 x 2.6 meters. (image via). I think Bonheur's painting is remarkable in that it raises animal painting (which was considered mundane as flower painting) to the celebrated level of history painting, both in its unusual use of allegorical content and its heroic composition. The Académie considered allegory to be closer to a higher intellectual truth because such symbolic artifice aimed to represent the "Platonic ideals" of abstract concepts. Bonheur was able, without pretentiousness, to allegorically harness literature, religion and socio-political issues such as industrialization, poverty, and proto-transcendentalism (Bonheur had been raised in a socialist sect of Christianity at home, versus a Catholic education). The composition itself is a precursor to socialist and WPA-style art of the 1920s-30s which celebrated the humble proletariat in heroic murals and posters. Its bold wide-open horizon breaks with a big dynamic diagonal that implies the slow ineluctable march of an object of titanic strength. Yet the allegorical content receives equal billing in Bonheur's eyes to the individual personalities of the oxen who are actually the stars of the picture. It's at once sentimental and transgressive, a rustic thumbing of the nose at Academic allegory while paying homage to it. 

 
 

Detail from Labourage Nivernais, by Rosa Bonheur, 1849. (image via). Bonheur's paintings were always unbelievably crisp and detailed but never stiff or pinched-looking. She was capable of loose wet-on-wet brushwork, as can be seen in many of her informal animal studies, but she usually kept her surfaces smooth and refined, as was the Academic standard of the day. Bonheur considered her paintings to be homages to nature in all its idiosyncratic perfection, so the more completely and precisely she copied nature, the better the homage. This attitude was criticized by some contemporaneous artists and philosophers, especially toward the end of the 1800s, who believed copying wasn't the same as creating. I also feel torn about this in regard to modern photorealistic painting. On one hand, I resent the implication that the highest possible achievement of an artist is to become a human camera or inkjet printer; while on the other hand I recognize that when artists reproduce such detail the practice becomes as meditative as it is based in curiosity, thus rendering the act inherently human. Paul Cezanne later remarked about this painting, "it is horribly like the real thing."

 
For such a simple image, Labourage Nivernais's political and artistic context was complex, and Rosa intentionally made a statement with the piece which would define her political, social and artistic position for her entire career. 

Here's a brief run-down of what was going on politically the year this was painted. After the chaos of the French Revolution (1790s) and glory days of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1810s), France suffered under an ultra-conservative king. He was deposed and the more socially moderate King Louis Philippe assumed throne. However his economic policies were terrible-- he rejected both socialist reforms (like improving conditions for the working class and investing in public infrastructure) and liberal economics (free trade, industrial expansion). Though the 1830s the nation became poorer and poorer, with towns like Bordeaux hit the hardest (Bonheur's own family had left Bordeaux to seek commissions in Paris). In 1832 the Parisian working class attempted another revolution but it was violently suppressed (this event is what Les Miserables is about). Skilled workers like Rosa's father were reduced to working class laborers. Hundreds of thousands of children had been abandoned and around 1/3 of Paris was on welfare of sorts. Unemployment was completely out of control.
 
In 1846 the harvests were bad and in 1847 rural peasant revolts were violently crushed. In Paris socialism was proliferating. Suddenly in February 1848 King Louis Philippe was overthrown and France was once again declared a Republic, with an elected provisional government (like after the Revolution in the 1790s). Since hardly anyone could vote they extended that right to all French men.

Issue #1 on the agenda was unemployment. Socialists promoted the concept of "right to work" so the government organized "national workshops" which employed around 100,000 of the 800,000+ unemployed. To cover the program's costs they raised taxes on land owners, which hit small farmers the hardest (they were already facing food shortages). The rural peasantry revolted (including in Nivernais), so when the next round of elections came up in April a more conservative rural-friendly government was elected which put a stop to the national workshops. It is this government which commissioned Bonheur's painting. 
 
Urban workers, seeing their chance at socialism slip away, rose up in a massive revolt. This time the petite bourgeoisie (the middle class of small business owners, who outnumbered the working class) did not join the revolt because they believed the new conservative Party of Order would protect them. The military crushed the revolt (with significant effort). With the socialists subdued, the Party of Order then threw the petite bougeoisie completely under the bus; most of them lost their businesses and became working class but by then it was too late for the proletariat. 

The final nail in the socialist coffin came in the December 1848 elections. The newly enfranchised rural peasantry exercised their majority to vote in a conservative President named Napoleon III (not to be confused with the more famous Napoleon Bonaparte of the 1810s). Napoleon III had promised to be all things to all people, but he turned out to be a bog-standard conservative. He abolished the representative government and declared himself Emperor three years later, then ruled for two decades. 
 
This all took place within a year. So, why did France become so panicked so quickly that they elected a dictator? First, the 1790s Reign of Terror that had followed the French Revolution was still within living memory. Second, Paris's 1848 socialist revolt had spread all over Europe and everything was in turmoil. It felt like the world was ending. As for Bonheur, I don't know her political leanings on this issue. She'd have been exposed to both the rural and urban points of view, and while she knew poverty she was also a social climber.

Labourage Nivernais, Bonheur's calming affirmation of rural heroism, was exhibited in 1849 just as the rural peasantry were high on their electoral power and hopeful for then-President Napoleon III. In this sense Labourage Nivernais leans conservative. Alternatively it could be seen as a working class socialist statement, with the oxen signifying the intimidating power of brute physical labor. Either way these themes would certainly have been on the minds of artists and viewers that year.

Bonheur's animal paintings were never extremely political but throughout her career she did offset this gruff working class realism with a pleasing patina of sentimentality. Because of this balance her work remained ambiguous on many fronts and was embraced by the aristocracy yet also achieved wide popularity among all classes. The narrative of her later fame wasn't only her success but the fact that she was "one of us" who made it big, an eccentric working class underdog who won the individualistic game of Capitalism.

To her contemporaries the strongest clue to the painting's meaning was that most understood it to be inspired by the opening scene of George Sand's 1846 novel La Mare au Diable, which was the first of four novels that Sand based loosely on her rural childhood. Sand, in her author's note, explained the opening scene as a different take on then-common depictions of ploughing as the most grueling part of life from which death is a welcomed delivery. The old attitude is expressed well in an old French lyric: By the sweat of your brow/ You earn your poor living/ After long years of exploitation/ Here is your invitation to death. The prevailing world-view was that God had filled life with poverty and suffering just to earn a greater reward in Heaven. Sand disagreed and believed God had blessed life and humanity; her novel's ploughing scene was therefore a depiction of the contentment and familial felicity of hard work. She also wished to portray poverty as something other than nefarious and grotesque. Sand contrastsed an old man's two calm oxen against a youth in the next field whose team of four lively young oxen actually made ploughing more difficult, whose beautiful young voice was ineffective to command while the old man's gravelly tone and grizzled resignation were just right.
 
Bonheur admired Sand and was frequently compared to her because they were both were bold female creatives who cross-dressed. However Sand's leftist and feminist political leanings were explicit and outspoken. In 1848 she started a worker's newspaper and was elected to the leftist provisional government. This is particularly interesting since Bonheur's painting seemed to skew conservative.
 
Other comparisons were made to Courbet, who exhibited The Stonebreakers at the same Salon as Labourage Nivernais. It was at the front of a larger trend for realism which would produce countless images of rural poverty the 1840s-50s. "Realism" concerned itself with reality, unsentimental and unidealized, modern and directly lived (as opposed to Classical allegory or idealized versions of reality). In literature (Balzac, Flaubert, Zola) it was expressed as prolific attention to everyday detail, but realist artists often used simple, even crude brushstrokes to visually ally themselves with the rough working class. (I know, it's a bit counterintuitive but "realism" in art history doesn't mean that things look detailed and realistic, it's often the opposite). 

Bonheur regularly flirted with realism-- again, ambiguously. While her work was hardly a socialist manifesto, neither was it ever idealized into a Classical setting, nor was the arduous labor of peasants made to look decoratively picturesque-- though Bonheur did give it its own vigorous appeal. Bonheur was also one of many artists who bridged the divide within the Académie between "poussinistes" and "rubenistes," i.e. those who preferred crisp line and sculptural forms versus those who preferred lively brushstrokes, movement, and complex color. The two leading examples of both camps sat on the jury which awarded Labourage Nivernais; additionally Eugène Delacroix (the rubeniste and champion of realist Courbet) was a close friend of Sand.

When her Labourage Nivernais won the prestigious award, it lifted up the whole Bonheur family. Her father was appointed head of an art school for women, and with it a comfortable salary. He was over the moon that he could finally stop giving daily drawing lessons to survive and start doing the more ambitious work he’d always dreamed of, but sadly just before he could begin, he died. Rosa was appointed head of the school in his place and Juliette became a professor there. Rosa would remain passionate about supporting and mentoring women artists her entire life.
 
Two Male Figures, study by Rosa Bonheur, c. 1850-57. (image via). 

 
Wild Cat, by Rosa Bonheur, 1850. (image via).  

Nathalie Micas seems to have been a very interesting woman, so I'm disappointed I couldn't find more information about her. She was an artist herself, frequently painting alongside Rosa, as well as a self-taught amateur veterinarian and an amateur inventor. Again, I couldn't find records of any invention except a type of railroad brake which she tested using a miniature train with a few friends as volunteer passengers. Unfortunately the brake failed on a downhill run and "several good ladies went flying" (they were ok). According to another (questionably accurate) source Micas later exhibited the brake at the Chicago World's Fair. Bonheur wrote, quite amused, that Nathalie naturally gave off "grand tragic airs" and was her natural femme foil in many ways. About Nathalie's mother, who lived with Rosa and Nathalie until her death, I could find next to nothing. But accounts seem to imply the household was harmonious. 

The three women divided labor: Bonheur provided income for the entire house; Nathalie's mother was the housekeeper (and practically the zookeeper, given the amount of animals they accumulated); and Nathalie prepared canvases and assisted in the studio, negotiated with dealers and managed business affairs. 
 
Bonheur's art was extremely physically demanding; she reminds me of those National Geographic wildlife photographers who go to ridiculous lengths to get that perfect snap. She and Nathalie frequently hiked into the Pyrenees and stayed for weeks, camping and sketching. The only other people around were the occasional muleteers (mule herders) in the mountain passes who made frequent appearances in Bonheur's work. Once when she and Nathalie ran out of food on the trail, Nathalie “obtained” a bunch of frogs, covered their legs with leaves to improvise an en papillote steaming apparatus, and roasted them over a fire; they lived on frog’s legs for two days. It's this sort of vigorous effort to observe animals in their natural surrounds that cuts through any sentimentality in Bonheur's work: she captured so much of the animals' natural behavior that you could use her work as an ecological textbook.
 
This is NOT by Bonheur, it's by Nathalie Micas, called Roosters and Chickens in a Landscape. (image via). The only remaining art I could find by Micas was this black and white photo of a painting, and a modest painting of two bunnies.

Bonheur skyrocketed to international celebrity in 1852 with the monumental painting, Horse Fair.

The Horse Fair, by Rosa Bonheur, c. 1852-55. Purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt and on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY (image via). This is considered Bonheur's greatest painting, and it's absolutely enormous. One day while Bonheur was at the horse fair (a regularly occurring Paris marketplace) she was struck by the parade's resemblance to a sculpted frieze in the Parthenon. Looking at the outline of the group of horses, you can even see the reference to the long triangular shape of a neoclassical tempanum or pediment which typically displayed sculpted tableaux of melodramaticly posed deities. Here the horses assume the role of gods as their magnificent bodies create the bombast; the rearing white horse could easily stand in for Zeus. But this isn't an imaginary classical setting. The dome of the Hôpital La Salpêtrière rises in the background, anchoring the scene in modern day Paris. Bonheur made extensive studies of horses for this piece, as well as studying the equine work of Théodore Géricault. Bonheur was nearly finished with this painting when a horse put its hoof through the canvas. The piece was delayed as she had to patch it up and re-paint.
 
Horse Fair should have won Bonheur the incredibly prestigious Legion of Honor, so everyone was expecting Emperor Napoleon III to award it to her at the customary celebratory dinner at the Tuileries. But he did not. One writer in the 1880s, pausing her inspirational children's book narrative to throw serious shade, suggested Napoleon III was too insecure in the legitimacy of his authority to take the risk of awarding the Legion of Honor to the first ever woman. 
 
His wife Empress Eugénie disapproved of the slight and held onto the resentment for twelve long years, until Napoleon III traveled abroad and left her in charge as Regent for the summer. One day while Bonheur was painting in her country studio Empress Eugénie's royal coaches rolled up unexpectedly. Eugénie knocked; no one answered. So she just wandered inside, pet the barking dogs until they calmed down, and poked around the property until she found Bonheur, flabbergasted, in her pants and smock. She strode up to the painter and gave her a big hug and kiss. They chatted for a few minutes before Eugénie made her royal exit, and it was only after she left that Bonheur realized, as Eugenie had hugged her she’d pinned the Cross of the Legion of Honor to her smock. 
 
Eugenie made it her mission to advocate for the equality of women, pressuring the Ministry of National Education to award baccalaureate diplomas to women and (unsuccessfully) to get George Sand elected as the first female member of the Académie française. "Genius," she famously declared, "has no sex."
 
Two years later Auguste Bonheur would also win the Legion of Honor for his exquisite landscapes. Rosa won similar honors from the King of Belgium and King of Spain. Years later she was promoted from chevalier to officer of the Legion of Honor (those awarded can advance in rank with further honors; officers of the Legion of Honor are basically statesmen). After Eugénie's visit Nathalie habitually hung a dress by the front door so Rosa could do a quick-change for any visiting VIPs. 

Bonheur, gruff and reclusive as she was, still had a gift for self-promotion and Nathalie was a good business manager. But an art dealer from London named Ernest Gambart was to thank for much of Bonheur's public management throughout her career. Gambart snatched up The Horse Fair when it was first exhibited and hired a talented engraver named Thomas Landseer to make a print of the piece. In those days before photographic reproductions, an artist could grant permission to an engraver to reproduce their painting (by hand-engraving a finely detailed black and white drawing on a metal printing plate); the artist then received royalties on all prints sold. That is how most audiences viewed art, unless they were lucky enough to see a painted copy in a museum or to travel to see the original. Landseer's print sold so well that by the end of the 19th century every post office, dining room and textbook in Europe and the US had a copy. 

Ernest Gambart must have been a legendary hype man because he was able to arrange a star-studded victory tour of Bonheur and the painting through England. He negotiated commissions, arranged strategic social engagements and publicized the piece so well that Bonheur and Micas were greeted by cheering crowds. Queen Victoria scheduled a private viewing and dined with Bonheur, then purchased several pieces. Bonheur also met John Ruskin, the most important art critic of the era (and she was not impressed: "he is a gentleman, an educated gentleman; but he is a theorist. He sees nature with a little eye – just like a bird.") The tour had a lasting impact in that Bonheur became even more famous in England than her native France.

While in England Bonheur painted a copy, reduced in size, of The Horse Fair, which hangs in the National Gallery in London. I often see art history texts mentioning offhand that painters would make a copy or two of their paintings, and that boggles my mind. The last thing I can imagine doing when I finish even a drawing, would be to start the entire thing over again and reproduce it perfectly. In Bonheur's case Nathalie made the under-drawing and began the painting while Bonheur finished it. It was likely not their only such collaboration. Artists often tasked assistants with the bulk of copies which the artist would then complete, but it wasn't always the case.

From London the couple traveled to rural Scotland, where Bonheur fell in love with the landscape. She would go on to create several pieces portraying a highlander way of life which had largely disappeared by Victorian times and which appealed to modern English sensibilities. As she traveled rumors began to circulate that she'd marry the famous English painter Sir Edwin Landseer (brother of the engraver). He publicly remarked, “[The Horse Fair] surpasses me, though it’s a little hard to be beaten by a woman." Bonheur did not return to France with a husband, as speculated, but she did bring back a dog. 

The Highland Shepherd, by Rosa Bonheur, 1859. (image via). One of many paintings Bonheur made after visiting Scotland. The Highlander way of life she depicted was already a quaint anachronism by that point and appealed to the nostalgia of Industrial era Europe. Bonheur frequently married Christian imagery of shepherding with a sense of ancient heritage; in some of her paintings shepherds share their food with the flock while in others the diligent shepherd is weary from keeping watch. While among Bonheur's contemporaries a popular subject were angelic teen shepherdesses, Bonheur's shepherds were always strong and rustic yet tender-hearted, creating a portrait of an ideal Christian masculinity which was as generous and loving as it was rugged and protective. 

 
Changing Pastures (also known as Rowing Boat), by Rosa Bonheur, 1863. (image via). That is a lot of sheep in one boat. How did they get them in there? If you look closely you can see the Scotish tam o' shanter hats over red hair and a tartan cloak.

 
Sheep by the Sea, by Rosa Bonheur, 1865. (image via).
 
The money from Horse Fair enabled Bonheur, Nathalie and Madame Micas to purchase a château in the forests of Fontainbleau outside Paris, and it was awesome. The Baroque structure was a tiny castle with old gardens still landscaped in the style of Le Nôtre (who had designed the grounds of Versailles) surrounded by forest. At the end of one avenue of linden trees stood a bronze statue by Isadore Bonheur. In these gardens lived two chamois (antelopes from the Pyrenees) in a wire enclosure; a grazing cow and bull and several horses who served as Bonheur's models; and assorted hounds. In a nearby lawn sheep and deer grazed who were acually on hugging terms with Bonheur. Then there were the hounds, the various other dogs, the eagle, parrot and other birds, rabbits, ducks, squirrels. The puckish otter who hid in their bed, the bears, the butterflies, the monkey. And Néro the lion and Fathma the lioness, whom Bonheur treated as pet dogs, and who roamed freely and came when called. 

The Monarch of the Herd, by Rosa Bonheur, 1868. (image via). These deer were likely those living at the Chateau Bly. Bonheur had a huge antlered stag who let her hug and pet him.
 
Bonheur's only modernization was a new brick studio (and quarters for the chauffer) which held an explosion of collected curiosities. Paintings all over the walls, abundant taxidermy (including stuffed heads of Bonheur's former beloved animals), Scottish bagpipes, paintings by the other Bonheurs, and a fireplace flanked by two life-size dogs sculpted by Isadore. Live birds flew around and perched wherever they liked. Bonheur's guests were often shocked by the animals roaming freely in all of Bonheur's successive residences, particularly the mess and aroma.
 
 
Études de Chiens (Studies of Dogs), by Rosa Bonheur, undated. (image via Pinterest, uncredited; the piece seems to be in the collection of the nascent museum at Bonheur's chateau). Bonheur was a prolific painter of dogs of all breeds.

 
Wild Boar with Piglets, by Rosa Bonheur, undated. (image via). Another scene from the forests of Fontainbleau around Chateau By. Why is it a universal human urge to see a wild thing that could kill us and think, "pet it. Peeeeet iiiiiiit." Wild boars can really mess you up unfortunately, especially if a mother has piglets nearby. But oh my god, the piglets! Looook at theeem! 
 
 
Left: a rare antique Rosa Bonheur doll, which were popular in England and the US. It shows Bonheur's typical menswear and cropped hair. (image via). Middle: Bonheur's palette with a little study of a deer in the middle (image via). Right: Bonheur's official license from the police to wear men's clothing (but not to shows, balls and other events open to the public), which she'd have had to get renewed every six months (image via). She was one of roughly 12 women to receive this license in the 1850s (maybe more, as record-keeping was haphazard), including her partner Nathalie Micas. Otherwise wearing pants or other men's clothing would have been a crime. These permits and cross-dressing laws originated just after the French Revolution which, though radically progressive in most realms, was strangely reactionary when it came to women. There was actually a harsh crackdown on women's rights under Robespierre's Jacobin republic which persisted though somewhat relaxed under Napoleon Bonaparte (the famous one, not to be confused with Napoleon III who ruled during Bonheur's lifetime). George Sand (the pen name of a great French writer and female contemporary whom Bonheur admired) also dressed as a man but never received permission; she claimed legally that dressing as a noblewoman simply cost too much and was an undue burden. Bonheur would have had to obtain a notarized recommendation from a health official demonstrating legitimate medical need. However "medical need" was interpreted widely from district to district; working professionally in some "male" jobs (including journalist, print-shop worker, explorer) qualified for permits (as Bonheur could claim based on plein aire painting), and sometimes even appearing naturally masculine qualified, as cross-dressing was understood to help the woman blend in and protect her from harassment. What I find remarkable is how her short hair and men's clothes were portrayed as exciting and almost glamorous in sources from the 1800s, particularly for children. Unfeminine women were often treated contemptuously by Victorian writers, but Bonheur seems to have caught imaginations in just the right way, or simply the fantasy of freely roaming the countryside, unchaperoned, uncorseted and unbothered. Bonheur herself did encounter some negative reactions, but when she was poor she was too poor to care; and when she was rich she could afford not to care. "My gruff disposition," she said, "which is even a bit uncivilized, has never stopped my heart from staying perfectly feminine."
 
Despite her legendary work ethic and grand paintings Bonheur loved goofing around with other artists. She made caricatures, visual games and puzzles; a very personal comic was recently discovered as well. Bonheur and Nathalie Micas founded an artist's group at the Château By roughly in the Saint Simeonist spirit. The pair were apparently on good terms with the peasants who lived around Château By. 
 
Though she relished her isolation Bonheur often visited Gambart, her art dealer, at his museum-mansion in Nice, where she schmoozed with the international aristocracy and won elite contracts. "Such things please me about as much as twenty kicks in the backside!" she wrote, but the exotic menageries of the local glitterati must have eased the alleged torture of the Riviera. Panthers, polar bears and wild mustangs were available for sketching.

Bonheur's attitude toward animals, besides obvious enthusiasm, was incredibly tender yet also hardened from her agrarian childhood. She loved hunting, calling herself "the Diana of Fontainbleau." She collected taxidermy (including many stuffed former pets), but also seemed to have a loving personal relationship with any animal she came across. But, like a typical farmer, when an animal grew ill she immediately killed it to put it out of misery. Any animals that didn't fit in to her lifestyle were re-homed. And, had the Prussians tried to ransack the Château, Bonheur had even planned to kill her entire menagerie rather than let it fall into enemy hands. An example which perfectly encapsulates Bonheur's attitude is when Fathma the Lioness grew too old to climb the Château's stairs one final time and died in Bonheur's arms. Then Bonheur had Fathma's hide made into a rug for her studio.
 
 
Several pages from a recently discovered comic by Rosa Bonheur, 1870 (images via Mucha Creative and Musée d'Orsay). It shows Nathalie and Madame Micas leaving Rosa and her friend, the artist Paul Chardin, for the day. "Free at last!" cries Rosa, and she and Paul smoke cigars like bachelors then go hiking. They end up falling out of a tree (something to do with Bonheur getting mistaken for a priest because of her hat) and return home to Nathalie wet and dejected like strays. Bonheur likely drew this for Nathalie's amusement. The industrious owner of Bonheur's chateau and director of its museum recently found the comic hidden in her attic, among other treasures. Musée d'Orsay recently exhibited the cartoons.

 
The Farm at the Entrance of the Wood, by Rosa Bonheur, between 1860-80. (image via).
 
In 1870 came another government regime change. Some background: German statesman Otto von Bismarck yearned to unite North and South Germany into one nation, but unfortunately the Protestant North and Catholic South absolutely hated each other. To overcome this hurdle Bismarck decided to unite them in hatred of something they loathed even more than each other: France. Bismarck then picked a war with France (he flagrantly insulted their diplomat) and poor France, completely unprepared, was decimated. Paris fell under siege-- many of the future Impressionists fought to defend it-- and Parisians became so desperate they were forced to eat all the animals in the zoo. 

The Prussian (German) army passed right by Château By, but by special order of the Prussian general, who was a great admirer of Bonheur, the Château and all its servants were left completely unharmed. Bonheur was devastated that she hadn't been permitted to join the army to fight the Prussians.

France surrendered while Emperor Napoleon III was abroad, so he lost face and was forced to abdicate. Germany was successfully united. After an armed domestic revolt Paris briefly declared itself an anarcho-communist free state, but France's provisional Minister of War was able to flee Paris in a hot air balloon then help establish the modern Third Republic (1871-1940). Bonheur was to thrive in the Republic as well.
 
Wild Boars in the Snow, by Rosa Bonheur, c. 1870. (image via). A subtle reference to the Prussian Army passing through neighboring Fontainbleau Forest, perhaps?

In these later decades the Women's Movement was also gaining traction. Bonheur's position on organized women's groups, though, was ambiguous. She was a great supporter of women's rights and equality, but mainly as an individualist, a romantic genius who would demonstrate, not request, woman's place in history. One must remember that in those days organized women's movements had yet to manifest their effectiveness and the concept was largely untested. Bonheur's main concern was that women would become ghettoized through organization. Especially when it came to organizing for women in the arts-- the struggle to be seen as "an artist," instead of "a woman artist" has been a common theme for countless female artists today and indeed throughout time. She did, however, accept a position as president of the Société des Femmes Peintres et Sculpteurs. And she did celebrate the Women's Movement's gains in the US. 
 
But she said, ‘Women’s rights! – women’s nonsense! Women should seek to establish their rights by good and great works, and not by conventions. ... [...] I wed art, that is my husband, my world, my life-dream, the air I breathe. […] I have no taste for general society, or interest in its frivolities. I only seek to be known through my works. If the world feel and understand them, I have succeeded. […] If I had got up a convention to debate the question of my ability to paint The Horse Fair, the decision would have been against me. I felt the power within me to paint; I have cultivated it. […] I have no patience for women who ask permission to think!” 
 
Bonheur's insistence on transcending femininity, on beating men at their own game, also set her up to be seen as an anomoly of her sex. But Bonheur made an indelible mark on the female art world through championing myriad younger women artists and protégées. As she became wealthy she was very generous in support; she took extremely valuable paintings and sketches right off her wall to gift and fund struggling young artists and formally funded many scholarships and stipends. 
 
Bonheur's paintings certainly don't offer much food for thought in the way of gender critique or any sort of statement on womanhood. However, as I pointed out above, her work did offer a singular and appealing view of masculinity which I've never seen discussed. The Bonheur Man was rugged, affectionate, and as full of vigor as he was attentive. He was not necessarily classically handsome, but Bonheur clearly saw physical beauty of sorts in her male subjects. They are even sometimes a bit objectified. Did you check out that shepherd's legs or that figure study's butt in the previous images? I did. In my opinion, there is definitely something there with Bonheur and the male figure. And I personally believe she was a lesbian. Make of that what you will.
 
Two Goats, by Rosa Bonheur, 1870. (image via). I like how formalistic this portrait is. It reminds me of the Girl Scouts logo, but with goats.


Le Roi de la forêt (King of the Forest), by Rosa Bonheur, 1878. (image via).

 
Lion, by Rosa Bonheur, c. 1880. (image via).

 
 
Cerf et biche dans un paysage enneigé (Buck and Doe in a Snowy Landscape), by Rosa Bonheur, 1883. (image via).
 
In the 1880s and 90s Bonheur's palatte became lighter, perhaps due to the inescapable influence of the Impressionists. It was the beginning of a changing tide in the art world which would eventually leave Bonheur's academic style adrift.
 
 
Royalty at Home, by Rosa Bonheur, 1885. Watercolor. (image via).
 
In April 1889 Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West show arrived in Paris. It was an overnight sensation. Bonheur was incredibly inspired by Cody's romantic portrayal of the Wild West and especially by the cast of Native Americans who traveled with him. Cody arranged for the Native American troop members to set up camp near the show so that curious French people could see how they lived and witness their friendly everyday family life outside of the "wagon raid" dramas they staged under the circus tent. Bonheur and Cody made fast friends and Bonheur visited the camps frequently, keeping detailed sketchbooks of tools and clothing which would later aid her in a series of large paintings of Native Americans on horseback. Bonheur expressed dismay that the Native Americans, who represented to her freedom and authenticity, were being driven into obscurity by the "white usurpers." She was so grateful to Buffalo Bill that she invited him to Château By and offered to paint his portrait for free. 

Later that summer Rosa's world changed dramatically when Nathalie died. "You can very well understand how hard it is to be separated from a friend like my Nathalie, whom I loved more and more as we advanced in life; for she had borne with me the mortifications and stupidities inflicted on us by the silly, ignorant, low-minded people. She alone knew me, and I, her only friend, knew what she was worth."
 
Buffalo Bill did visit the Bonheur later that summer, and despite her grief she painted a very famous portrait of him which hangs at the Whitney. Years later when Cody's Nebraska house caught fire he wired his sister to let it burn, but save the portrait-- and she did. 


Col. William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill), by Rosa Bonheur, 1889. (image via). Right: Indian Artifacts, Weapons and Pipes, studies by Rosa Bonheur some time after 1841, probably around 1889. (image via). Cody's Wild West show traveled to Paris in 1889 and caused a sensation. To Bonheur, the Native Americans and American West represented freedom and individuality. Cody agreed to visit her chateau and sit for this portrait.
 
Days after Cody visited, a wealthy American stopped by to find out what ever happened to the wild mustang he'd sent from his Wyoming ranch for Bonheur to paint. As a translator he brought with him a young American artist named Anna Klumpke. Bonheur admitted that the mustang had been too wild to paint, so she'd given it to Buffalo Bill. One of the show's cowboys had easily broken the horse and it was performing with the Wild West show. The point of this story is this is how Bonheur met Klumpke, but what stands out to me is that a) the American apparently wasn't angry that she gave away his horse and b) he sent a completely wild mustang by train from Wyoming to NY, then by steamer to London, then to France, then by train to Bonheur outside Paris. That must have taken maybe two-three weeks? Did they send a cowboy with it, or what? When I wanted to take one small house cat overseas a few years ago it took weeks of paperwork, kitty valium and a special plane ticket, and it was still very stressful. That poor horse. No wonder it wasn't in the mood to stand still and be painted.

Anyway Klumpke, who was an extremely talented and successful portrait painter, had been a lifelong fan of Bonheur's work (she even had a Rosa Bonheur doll when she was little), but she found Bonheur was too despondent after Micas's death to do any visiting. But the two remained pen pals after Klumpke returned to the US, and when she came back to Paris in 1895 she asked Bonheur if she could visit her to paint her portrait (which would later become quite famous). 

This time Bonheur took notice and began purposefully delaying the project so Klumpke would stay longer. The two became extremely close despite the large age gap (Bonheur was 77 and Klumpke was 43). Bonheur declared her love-- she called the relationship "the divine marriage of two souls," while in letters referring to Klumpke sometimes as "the daughter she never had" and sometimes as her "wife." Bonheur invited Klumpke to sign a contract to cohabitate with her at the Château, to which Klumpke happily agreed. Sadly they only lived together as partners for a year until Bonheur's death in 1899. In her final years Bonheur had been experimenting with pastel and photography.

Bonheur was buried beside Nathalie and Madame Micas in Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris (Klumpke would later be buried with them when she died in the 1940s). Bonheur had arranged her will so that Klumpke would inherit the estate just as if she were a wife (she had also done this with Nathalie). After coming under fire from the rest of the Bonheurs, who were outraged, Klumpke settled the dispute by selling nearly all of Bonheur's paintings, sharing the profits with the Bonheur family, and using her additional inheritance to immediately buy the pieces back. 
 
 
Threshing, by Rosa Bonheur, undated. (image via).

It is Klumpke who is mainly to thank for Bonheur's legacy, despite Bonheur's fame. She published a volume which was half "autobiography," that is Bonheur's life in her words through Klumpke, and half memoir of her time with Bonheur. Klumpke stayed at the Château, managing the estate and continuing to publicize Bonheur's legacy. By that time the art world had long since moved on to fauvism, cubism and abstract expressionism, and Bonheur's work was held in extremely low regard. By the 1960s nearly no one had heard of Bonheur, despite the enduring popularity of The Horse Fair at the Met, because her work wasn't relevant to the story of Modernism. 

The run-down Château was recently purchased from Klumpke's family by a woman of surprisingly modest means named Katherine Brault. She remembers visiting the château on a field trip and thinking it was dark and scary; whenever they passed the grounds as children they'd call, "there's the witch's house!" The bronze bull erected by the town of Fontainbleau in Bonheur's memory had been melted down by Nazis so all the kids knew was that Bonheur was "a local woman who painted." 
 
Brault has begun the monumental and ongoing task of repairing the château and restoring it to how it was in Bonheur's lifetime. She is amassing a permanent collection for the museum and sorting through the old attics full of Bonheur's abandoned belongings, artwork and ephemera. She has so far made several significant discoveries. Today the Château is open to visit (and I'd love to go!). Some but not all rooms and wings are finished and open to the public; the grounds are landscaped and lovely, and you can even pay to stay overnight in one of the rooms.
 
For my own portrait of Rosa Bonheur for Inktober I struggled a bit with the composition. The main thing I wanted to echo from Bonheur's work is her heroic use of wide-open space. But when constructing a portrait on computer-sized paper you can't leave very much negative space if you want the figure to be big enough to include any detail at all. And I wanted to include detail because the other major feature of Bonheur's work I wanted to echo was her Academic precision, the extensive technical groundwork which was the foundation of each of her paintings. This led me to an unusual composition that shows a small section of the face as a finished ink-wash painting while sketching in the rest of the figure as a sort of Academic under-drawing which gives the detailed inset ample room to breathe. Luckily I had quite a few photographs and portraits of Bonheur to use as references.


Portrait of Rosa Bonheur by Ciana Pullen (me), 2020 Inktober project. Ink wash.
 
Note: I used many sources for this, many of which contradicted each other. What I have to offer is not some authoritative answer to which are correct-- though I did quite a bit of detective work to discern, I'm just a person on the internet, not a proper researcher. Rather, I offer context to place Bonheur's work within art history and the world around her, discussion of the art itself, and connections between Bonheur and the male artists who were her contemporaries. I find that context and those connections largely missing from most posts about female artists. Bonheur is no exception; bloggers and journalists understandably focus on her personal life and fame but can give the impression that she lived in a lesbian vacuum. Several thorough biographies have recently been published (which I have not yet read) and exhibits organized, which together with the new museum in Bonheur's Château means the Internet is now full of information on Bonheur, disjointed as it is. But I found these sources especially useful: London Book Review, Center of the West, Smithsonian Magazine, and Hyperallergic.