1822 - 1899

"The epithets of imbeciles have never bothered me."

- Rosa Bonheur

Born into an artistic family, Rosa was raised a Saint-Simon - a religious sect that promoted the education of women and believed in a female messiah. When no art school of the era would accept her because she was a woman, she received artistic training from her father, artist Oscar-Raymond Bonheur. Rosa found her subject matter almost at once - since first picking up a brush or working with sculpture she had a fascination with the meticulous renderings of animals. Her work as an animalier (painter of animals) fit perfectly with the Realist school of painting and popular nature trend in art of the time. Though she painted hundreds of pieces, her two most enduring works are ‘Ploughing in the Nivernais’ (1849) and the monumental 8’ x 16’ painting ‘The Horse Fair’ (1855).  International fame followed and she was even commissioned to do some pieces for Queen Victoria. Bonheur was a true nonconformist - smoking, cutting her hair short, visiting slaughterhouses to study animal anatomy, and wearing trousers in pubic (which she had to get a special license to do). Widely considered the most famous female painter of the 19th century, her behavior was tolerated because of her wealth and success. She lived with companion Nathalie Micas at her country estate for decades - upon her death Rosa lived with American painter Anna Elizabeth Klumpke. Her estate was also populated by an abundant variety of animals which included dogs, rabbits, horses, lions, and even an otter. When asked why she never married her standard reply was “I preferred to preserve my name.” She died in 1899 at the age of 77.   


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Faith Construct Protestant

Nations Affiliated France

Era/Epoch Victorian Era (1837-1901)

Field(s) of Contribution


Commemorations & Honors

First Woman to Receive the French Legion of Honor Grand Cross (1865)

Work Displayed at World's Columbian Exposition Palace of Fine Arts and Women's Building in Chicago (1893)

First Woman Artist to Receive the French Legion of Honor Officer of the Order (1894)


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Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell