Saturday, April 17, 2010

Rosa Bonheur

I was chided by a reader the other day because I said " each generation has produced men who had great brushwork". I explained in the comment that I used men in the broader sense as meaning mankind. Whenever the subject of women painters comes up I always champion Rosa Bonheur. I far prefer her to Georgia O'Keefe or Judy Chicago. She gets my vote for best woman painter. There have been many fine women painters, but only Bonheur I think can be called the greatedt at what she did. No one has surpassed her in animal painting, in my opinion. For instance, Celia Beaux was a great portrait painter but I don't think her the equal of Sargent. Although better known, I don't think Georgia O'Keefe was the equal of Maynard Dixon in capturing the feel of the southwest. Because she was the best at what she did, I argue she was the greatest woman painter. However this is a matter of subjective opinion, of course. You may prefer another. The painting above of the Horse Fair from the Met is a good example of why I think this. It has to be seen to be believed. It is 16 feet wide!

Her command of anatomy and the texture of fur has yet to be surpassed. She also painted with a dignity and elegance that places her far above the usual animal illustrators of today.

Born in Bordeaux, France in 1822, her father and all of her siblings were artists. Darwin used the family as an example of inherited genius. She was the most famous of women artists in the 19th century and is somewhat overlooked today. Although her family was originally Jewish, they were members of a sect of Christian Socialists called St. Simonists. The St. Simonists were early believers in education and full rights for women.
Bonheur did dissection and studied animal anatomy in the slaughterhouses and the veterinarian schools in Paris. She drew and painted animals as a specialty from her early teens. She was shown repeatedly at the salon and was a favorite of Queen Victoria.

Bonheur has received attention from the gay community because she was a lesbian, but not so much for her art. She dressed in men's clothing ,saying that it suited her work and smoked cigarettes, considered scandalous at the time. Despite the Victorians reputation for prudery, she was extremely popular and engravings of her art sold very well and made her a household name in the era.

So, here is an example of fine, broad brushwork by a consummate master of the form.

Gee I hope I'm off the hook.

Thanks to for some of these images.


Love2paint said...

So she was an Ellen Degeneres of her day! My goodness, was she talented.

Stape, I was out painting the ocean today and I thought of you! I painted at the Montage Resort Hotel shorelines. We need to paint the sea together!

Unknown said...

what's even more amazing is that she had to paint that from life, studies, sketches,etc... not from photos.
I love the greens in that deer painting - greens can be so toxic, but those are soothing and very believable.
Hey Stape,... after all the seascapes (voices: "No beaks!") I decided to try a little one. I put it in the gallery and it sold on the night of the opening! Do I owe you a commission on that?

Philip Koch said...

Good post!

That first painting Stape mentions of the horse fair really is amazing in real life- it bowls you over. When I lived in New York City and studied at the Art Students League I spent tons of time after class at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was wonderful to be able to see that Rosa Bonheur and a host of others in the flesh.

Robert J. Simone said...

You succumbed to pressure of political correctness; how disappointing...(lol). And Christian Socialists? I would ask, "What's that?" but it occurs to me that 54% of Catholics voted...oh, never mind.

Let me add the name Dorthea Sharp to list of woman painters with great brushwork.

Ian Swain said...

Great post Stape! PLEASE keep 'em coming. said...

I've been in a world of my own (Studio) the past week getting a series out that has been brewing for a while. I'm back here, for good or for not.

I'm trying to think about a nice way to say this to painters and artists who are women: "You want to be a painter, you consider yourself an artist, then get on with the job and be the best you can be." No special consideration for gender.In every future generation there are artists who distinguish themselves with their brush work. At sometime that artists may be a woman, a gay woman, a man , a gay man or whatever. Let's get painting. Is it harder for a women to get time to paint and get recognition? Maybe but who wants to hear it? The proof is in the painting. Judith Jans Leyster 1660!

billspaintingmn said...

Thanks Stape! There are so many Women painters/artists past and present that I admire. You could/should do a series...
There is something about their art
that a man is not capable or able to portray. I'm fine with that.
Is this evidence that there is more to art than just technical, but also spiritual, or soulfulness?
I guess the feeling I get from a painting is equally important to it's correctness, maybe more so.
Just as music plays on emotion, so does art!(my opinion)

Deborah Paris said...

"The proof is in the painting" Amen.

Unknown said...

Off the hook? Because you raved about a lesbian?

Not until you rave about a lesbian-disabled-Mexican are you off the hook.

jeff said...

Stap I have always thought the same about Rosa Bonheur. Le Marché aux Chevaux (The Horse Fair)was painted when she was all of 31 and it was the largest painting by an animal painter produced.

When you see this painting for the first time it is a moving experience, the scale, the mastery of the drawing and paint handling all combines for one great painting.

I would also add Anne Vallayer-Coster, court painter to Marie-Anoinette who was a great still life painter.

Judith Leyster is another wonderful painter whom it seems stopped painting after she married. Which I always thought of as a real shame.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I love you 2

Stapleton Kearns said...

Congratulations. I wish I could have seen that happen!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. What a difference there is when you see a monumental painting face to face.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I take it you were not named after the aforementioned outfit.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thank you. I am good for a few more.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You tell em.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I might, but there are a lot of other things to write about first.

Stapleton Kearns said...

And the only proof. I get way too hung up on what the paintings actually look like.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Was Sequiros disabled, I could rant about him. I am sure he was no lesbian though.I wish you would enable your profile,this is a friendly place.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hows about Vigee LeBrun. There's another master.I wish somehow I could assenble all of the readers of the blog in front of the Horse Fair for a few minutes!

Ptolemy said...

Thanks for that, Stape... I would never have thought to want to see the original of the copy that's on my wall... That goes on my "Bucket List" for sure!