Rosa Bonheur: The Artist Who Inspired the Guinguettes in Paris

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Rosa Bonheur: The Artist Who Inspired the Guinguettes in Paris
In 1857 the Paris Prefecture of Police issued Rosa Bonheur une permission de travestissement, allowing the then 32-year-old artist permission to wear men’s clothes in public. Cigar-smoking Rosa, with her cropped hair and masculine dress, had always lived a non-traditional life, stemming in no small part from the philosophy of her father, who encouraged her career as an artist and buoyed her independence. Also an artist, Rosa’s father Oscar-Raymond Bonheur was a Saint-Simonian – a member of a political group which promoted a system of socialism. They aspired for equality of women and men and the abolishment of class distinctions. Rosa’s defiant personality placed her as an early feminist. She wrote that “To doctrines I owe my great and glorious ambition for the sex to which I proudly belong and whose independence I shall defend until my dying day.” Rosa Bonheur’s Permission de Travestissement. Rosa Bonheur was born in 1822 in Bordeaux, and died in Thomery, near the famed artists’ retreat of Fontainebleau, in 1899. She grew into a prolific painter and sculptor of animals. She was so precocious under her father’s tutelage that by the age of 14 Rosa began painting copies at the Louvre and first exhibited at the exalted Paris Salon in 1841 at age 19. By 23 Rosa had exhibited 18 works at the Salon. She was part of the Realist movement that emerged in Europe in the 1840s.  In 1848 she received a lucrative commission from the French State for Ploughing at the Nivernais (1849), now housed at the Musée d’Orsay. This Realist painting was inspired by George Sand’s rustic novel La Mare au Diable of 1846. The writings of George Sand another non-conformists had a great effect on Bonheur. Bonheur was known as an peintre animalier for demonstrating an affinity for animals in her art.  Her amazingly precise depictions of animals stemmed from her direct observation of the nature around her and was aided in no small part by her meticulous draftsmanship. To gain this intimate knowledge, Bonheur kept a small menagerie, including, as time passed, rabbit, squirrels, horses, lions, and even an otter. She frequented horse fairs and abattoirs and dissected animals to add to her familiarity of animal anatomy.

Lead photo credit : André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri (French - (Rosa Bonheur) - Google Art Project. Photo credit © Wikipedia, public domain

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


  • Beth Gersh-Nesic
    2020-12-23 03:09:37
    Beth Gersh-Nesic
    Wow - fabulous article, Hazel. Merci beaucoup! Will share this article on FB.