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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Rosa Bonheur

b. 1822, Bordeaux, France; d. 1899, Melun, France

Rosa Bonheur was a celebrated painter who exhibited work at the Paris Salon and was known for her detailed depictions of animals. She was trained by her father, Raymond Bonheur, as well as Léon Cogniet; she showed talent early and exhibited her first work at the Salon in 1841 at the age of nineteen. Her best-known piece, Horse Fair (1853–55), was shown there in 1853 and was purchased in 1887 by Cornelius Vanderbilt for an unheard of sum. In order to attract less attention while sketching at horse fairs and slaughterhouses, she obtained a permit from the French police to dress in men’s clothing. Bonheur was a decidedly unconventional figure, wearing trousers, smoking cigarettes, and owning a lioness. This did not, however, limit her success: in 1865, she was the first woman to be offered the Grand Cross of the Légion d’Honneur.