Tag Archives: Rosa Bonheur

#FineArtFriday: Ploughing in the Nivernais by Rosa Bonheur 1849

Rosa_Bonheur_-_Ploughing_in_Nevers_-_Google_Art_ProjectPloughing in the Nivernais by Rosa Bonheur

Genre: animal art

Date: 1849

Medium: oil on canvas

Dimensions: Height: 1,340 mm (52.75 in); Width: 2,600 mm (102.36 in)

Inscriptions: Signature and date right: Rosa Bonheur 1849

About this painting via Wikipedia:

Oxen ploughing in Nevers or Plowing in Nivernais, is an 1849 painting by French artist Rosa Bonheur. It depicts two teams of oxen ploughing the land, and expresses deep commitment to the land; it may have been inspired by the opening scene of George Sand‘s 1846 novel La Mare au Diable. Commissioned by the government and winner of a First Medal at the Salon in 1849, today it is held in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris.

The Nivernais, the area around Nevers, was known for its Charolais cattle, which were to play an important role in the agricultural revolution that took place in the area in the nineteenth century. Rosa Bonheur gained a reputation painting animals, and Ploughing in the Nivernais features twelve Charolais oxen, in two groups of six. On a sunny autumn day they plough the land; this is the sombrage, the first stage of soil preparation in the fall, which opens up the soil to aeration during the winter. Humans play a minor role in the painting—the farmer is almost completely hidden behind his animals. The freshly-ploughed land is prominent in the foreground, while the landscape behind is basking in sunlight. The painting’s clarity and light resembles that of the Dutch paintings (esp. by Paulus Potter) which Bonheur had studied as part of her education.

According to Albert Boime, the painting should be seen as a glorification of peasant life and its ancient traditions; he places it in the context of the revolutionary year 1848, when cities were the scene of chaos and strife. [1]

About the artist, via Wikipedia:

Bonheur was born on 16 March 1822 in BordeauxGironde, the oldest child in a family of artists. Her mother was Sophie Bonheur (born Marquis), a piano teacher; she died when Rosa Bonheur was eleven. Her father was Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, a landscape and portrait painter who encouraged his daughter’s artistic talents. Though of Jewish origin, the Bonheur family adhered to Saint-Simonianism, a Christiansocialist sect that promoted the education of women alongside men. Bonheur’s siblings included the animal painters Auguste Bonheur and Juliette Bonheur, as well as the animal sculptor Isidore Jules BonheurFrancis Galton used the Bonheurs as an example of “Hereditary Genius” in his 1869 essay of the same title.

In a world where gender expression was policed, Rosa Bonheur broke boundaries by deciding to wear pants, shirts and ties. She did not do this because she wanted to be a man, though she occasionally referred to herself as a grandson or brother when talking about her family; rather, Bonheur identified with the power and freedom reserved for men. Wearing men’s clothing gave Bonheur a sense of identity in that it allowed her to openly show that she refused to conform to societies’ construction of the gender binary. It also broadcast her sexuality at a time where the lesbian stereotype consisted of women who cut their hair short, wore pants, and chain-smoked. Rosa Bonheur did all three. Bonheur never explicitly said she was a lesbian, but her lifestyle and the way she talked about her female partners suggests this.

Bonheur, while taking pleasure in activities usually reserved for men (such as hunting and smoking), viewed her womanhood as something far superior to anything a man could offer or experience. She viewed men as stupid and mentioned that the only males she had time or attention for were the bulls she painted.

Having chosen to never become an adjunct or appendage to a man in terms of painting, she decided she would be her own boss and that she would lean on herself and her female partners instead. She had her partners focus on the home life while she took on the role of breadwinner by focusing on her painting. Bonheur’s legacy paved the way for other lesbian artists who didn’t favour the life society had laid out for them.

Bonheur died on 25 May 1899, at the age of 77, at Thomery (By), France. She was buried together with Nathalie Micas (1824 – 24 June 1889), her lifelong companion, at Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. Klumpke was Bonheur’s sole heir after her death, and later joined Micas and Bonheur in the same cemetery upon her death. Many of her paintings, which had not previously been shown publicly, were sold at auction in Paris in 1900. [2]


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Rosa Bonheur – Ploughing in Nevers – Google Art Project.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Rosa_Bonheur_-_Ploughing_in_Nevers_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg&oldid=380365743 (accessed April 8, 2021).

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Ploughing in the Nivernais,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ploughing_in_the_Nivernais&oldid=975131991 (accessed April 8, 2021).

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