18 January – 18 September 2022 Galerie des Beaux-Arts and North Wing of the Musée des Beaux-Arts
To mark the bicentenary of the birth of Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) in Bordeaux, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in her native city and the Musée d'Orsay, Paris, are organising a major retrospective of her work. The Château Musée Rosa Bonheur in Thomery (Seine-et-Marne), where the artist lived for almost half a century, is a guest partner in the exhibition. This anniversary has been included in the 2022 calendar of France Mémoire.
This major national and international event honours an extraordinary, innovative and inspiring artist. A true icon of women's liberation, Rosa Bonheur placed the living world at the heart of her work and her existence. She was committed to the recognition of animals in their uniqueness. With her great technical mastery, she was able to render both the anatomy and the psychology of animals. This exhibition allows the public to (re)discover the power and richness of her art, as well as her life as a free woman, which has become mythical, and her work, which is formidably popular in the United States and England.
Rosa Bonheur, Études de chiens © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Photos : F. Deval.
This exhibition will be presented in 2022 in Bordeaux and then in Paris. It will take place in the Fine Arts Gallery and the north wing of the museum and will bring together some one hundred works - paintings, graphic arts, sculptures and documents - from the most prestigious public and private collections in Europe and the United States. With its subject matter and issues at the heart of current affairs, this exhibition is part of the international trend of exhibitions devoted to women artists and a renewed interest in the theme of animals, which will be honoured at the Fontainebleau Art History Festival in 2022.
A powerful and innovative body of work
Born into a family of artists, Rosa Bonheur produced an abundant body of work, drawing her inspiration from the rural world of the French provinces, but also from the imagination of the great spaces of the American West, as evidenced by her meeting with Buffalo Bill in 1889, the Pyrenees and Scotland. Rosa Bonheur used her talent to the full and had an exemplary career. She competed with the greatest masters of the animal genre, long reserved for men, and took on monumental formats, giving her works the grandeur of history painting.
A lover of the living
Her view of the world around her demonstrates an exceptional vision of flora and fauna, both domestic and wild. Fascinated by animals, Rosa Bonheur gathered around her, in her property in By, a formidable menagerie of dozens of different species, including dogs, deer and wild animals.
Placing animals at the heart of her artistic creations by integrating them into spectacular compositions or isolating them in genuine portraits, Rosa Bonheur was able to create an expressive style, devoid of sentimentality and of great realism, informed by scientific discoveries and by the new attention paid to the animal species of the land, calling into question the hierarchy between species.
The exhibition plays on differences in scale, the artist having painted both very small formats and monumental works, most often panoramic and dynamic, as well as true full-height portraits of animals. In La Foulaison du blé en Camargue, Rosa Bonheur depicts the beauty and power of half-wild horses. The artist sees them belonging to the rural world and to peasant life, while at the same time exalting their telluric strength. She celebrates agriculture and the majesty of mother earth.
An extraordinary personality
Celebrated during her lifetime on both sides of the Atlantic, the exhibition aims to reveal little-explored or even unknown aspects of this fascinating personality, who was able to assert herself both as a free woman and as an officially recognised artist in a very constrained century. The first woman artist to receive the Légion d'honneur, Rosa Bonheur was able to develop a genuine commercial strategy very early on and to associate herself with the most eminent dealers and collectors in order to dominate the art market and to win her financial and creative independence. A true "star" of her time, her career that was crowned with the greatest awards. A virtuoso and demanding artist, she organised her life around her work and the relentless quest for perfection, supported by women, especially her lifelong friend Nathalie Micas, who lived by her side for over fifty years, and her last companion, the American painter Anna Klumpke, to whom she entrusted her legacy.
Rosa Bonheur was rapidly seen as a role model in the quest for independence for women, and for artists in particular. Articles and reviews, some French, but largely British and American, bear witness to this inspirational force for future generations. The image of the artist was so widespread that, in addition to numerous painted, photographed or engraved portraits, Rosa Bonheur's work, like her portrait, became the subject of what today would be called merchandise.
One of the original features of the exhibition is the presentation of a large selection of studies and sketches, both painted and drawn, which allow us to appreciate the role of drawing in the artist's creative process, and to see pages of rare beauty. Superb, completely unpublished drawings, recently discovered at the Château Rosa Bonheur, are exhibited for the first time. More unusual aspects of her work, often intended for a more intimate sphere (paintings on pebbles, chestnut sculptures, etc.) are also presented. Finally, the exhibition emphasises Rosa Bonheur's personality, her humour, her taste for caricatures and the fruitful relationships she had with personalities from the musical, literary and scientific worlds of the time.
George Achille-Fould, Portrait de Rosa Bonheur © Musée des Beaux-Arts, Photo : F. Deval.
A body of work that still resonates today
200 years after her birth, Rosa Bonheur's art and personality resonate with many societal issues that are relevant today more than ever: the place of women in art and society, homosexuality, the animal cause, rurality and ecology. The exhibition is accompanied by a cultural programme that crosses disciplines and projects from the educational and social fields, in line with the actions in favour of gender equality that the museum has been carrying out for the past six years.
This retrospective is an opportunity for stimulating cultural partnerships, including the Mériadeck Library, the Mériadeck shopping centre, the Bordeaux Conservatory - Jacques Thibaud, the Fonds régional d'art contemporain Nouvelle-Aquitaine/MECA, initiator of the Vivantes! on women artists in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, the Mollat-Station Ausone bookshop, the Bordeaux Science and Nature Museum, the Bordeaux Metropolitan Tourist Office, the Pôle d'Enseignement Supérieur de Musique et Danse Bordeaux Nouvelle-Aquitaine, as well as the Association des Amis de Rosa Bonheur and the Château de Fontainebleau. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue which is the first scientific publication to provide an overview of the many aspects of Rosa Bonheur's work.
Galerie des Beaux-Arts and North Wing of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, 18 May-18 September 2022.
Musée d’Orsay, 17 October 2022-15 January 2023.
In Bordeaux: Sophie Barthélémy, Director of the Musée des Beaux-Arts, and Sandra Buratti-Hasan, Assistant Director, Curator.
In Paris: Leïla Jarbouai, Curator at the Musée d'Orsay.
With the collaboration of Katherine Brault, President of the Château Musée Rosa Bonheur, assisted by Michel Pons.
Two exhibitions at the Château de Rosa Bonheur in Thomery By, "Le musée des œuvres perdues" (1 March - 1 September 2022) and "Rosa Bonheur intime" (2 September - 31 December 2022).
You can also read the media kit here (in french)
Rosa Bonheur, La Foulaison du blé en Camargue, 1864-1899 © Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, Photo : F. Deval.