• Rosa Bonheur was born in 1822 in the Saint-Seurin district of Bordeaux, before making a career in Paris and settling in the Château de By in Seine-et-Marne.

  • Known as an animal painter, the exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Bordeaux shows us an artist more complex than it seems.

  • Strong personality, feminist without being militant, she also defended the cause of minorities, such as that of the American Indians.

The Bordeaux Museum of Fine Arts is devoting a major exhibition to the painter Rosa Bonheur, on the occasion of her bicentenary.

Born in Bordeaux, in the Saint-Seurin district, on March 16, 1822, died in 1899, champion of 19th century figurative painting, Rosa Bonheur is mainly known for her “photographic” representations of animals.

However, it would be wrong to confine her to the register of the animal painter.

The exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, organized with the Musée d'Orsay, and which brings together works scattered all over the world, shows us an artist much more complex than it seems.

Resolutely modern, "she teaches us to take a better look at the world through issues such as feminism, the animal cause, which she defended since she was one of the first members of the SPA, and minorities, because she was very concerned by the fate of the American Indians," explains Sophie Barthélémy, director and chief curator of the Musée des Beaux-arts.

Inseparable with his love Nathalie Micas

Technically, "we feel in her works the influences of the Dutch masters, those of natural science works as well" but she can also bring "romantic touches and summons Antiquity", deciphers Sandra Buratti-Hasan, deputy director of the Museum of Beaux-Arts, and curator of the 19th-20th century collections.

Rosa Bonheur is also a personality.

“She was unconventional, but not unconventional, specifies Sophie Barthélémy, for example she did not shun honors or awards.

Cherishing her freedom and independence, she preferred to be left in peace when fame began to dawn after she moved to Paris.

The Horse Market

, produced in 1853, is certainly the work from which “she became an essential artist” emphasizes Sandra Buratti-Hasan.

She then buys a place to stay away, the castle of By in Thomery in Seine-et-Marne.

On the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau, and close to the animals she admires so much.

Which does not mean that she exiles herself far from everything and everyone.

“She lives there in very good company, in particular with her love Nathalie Micas, whom she met as a teenager in Paris and who accompanied her until the latter's death in 1889, underlines the deputy director.

They were inseparable.


Feminist but not activist

Rosa Bonheur will then know another love, with Anna Klumpke.

“They corresponded together for ten years and she lived with her the last year of her life, explains Sandra Buratti-Hasan.

She was an American painter, who produced several portraits of Rosa Bonheur, one of which was donated to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Rosa Bonheur welcomed her into her home, and never let her go.


Rosa Bonheur idealizes in this artist the emancipation of American women, which she considers more advanced than on the Old Continent.

"There is a desire in Rosa Bonheur to highlight the emancipation of women, it is her feminism, even if she was not an activist" explains Sophie Barthélémy.

The surprising meeting with Buffalo Bill

The Bordeaux artist had another astonishing encounter at the end of her life, that of Buffalo Bill, cowboy icon and famous character from the Far West... "Rosa Bonheur was fascinated by bison, an animal she cannot not see in France obviously, until Buffalo Bill arrived in Paris in 1889, to present his Wild West Show on the occasion of the universal exhibition, says Sandra Buratti-Hasan.

She lets herself be convinced to go see this show and meets Buffalo Bill who fascinates her.

She realizes her portrait, and above all she meets on this occasion Amerindians of different ethnicities, she has a lot of empathy and admiration for these men, going so far as to declare to have "a real passion for this unfortunate race", and deploring "let her disappear before the usurping Whites".

And even if she never went to the United States, "one of her great regrets", Rosa Bonheur nevertheless managed to capture in her paintings the ardor of American horses and the immensity of spaces.

In an almost cinematic way before its time.

Exhibition at the Gallery of the Museum of Fine Arts, and at the Museum of Fine Arts, every day from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. except Tuesdays and certain public holidays, until September 18.


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