The horse fair | Rosa Bonheur | 1855
The story of Bonheur has very interesting chapters.
She was born in Bordeaux, France, in the middle of a practicing Saint-Simonian family, which is a Christian-socialist sect that believed in the equalitarian education of men and women. They even expected a female messiah; moreso, all members of her family were artists and her father was friend with Francisco de Goya.
They sent little Rosa to school, but she had difficulties in writing. That’s why her mother, to help her, asked her to draw an animal for each letter of the alphabet. This constant practice would determine Bonheur’s future artistic career painting domestic animals.
She studied in several art schools and, in 1855, she ended The horse fair. Thanks to this one, she immediately gained international fame and recognition, which allowed her to meet Queen Victoria, a admirer of her work.
Is a huge painting, around 2,5 x 5m, where we see an auction for buying horses in the Boulevard l’Hôpital , in Paris; where Bonheur went twice a week to draw dressed like a man to avoid the attention from the traders.
Here we see a scene where there are horses displayed right to be sold. As the buyers are almost unnoticeable in the right side of the picture, the motif of the painting is the relation between people and animals or, let’s say, the relation between the civilized and wild worlds. Some of the characters are trying to tame the animals (far left); some quietly walk next to them (centre-left); there are some who fight them (center); and others, with more experience, can control 2 horses with no effort (centre-right). The scene is really dynamic; the horses and the dust make us feel the movement, contrary to the static of the trees and the spectators.
(Due that I study psychology, as a personal note, let me comment you that the silhouette of the building on the left is the Hospital la Salpêtrière, place where Freud began thinking his theories in psychoanalysis some years after Bonheur’s painting)
I personally think that the dark sky with clouds makes the painting glow. Like it makes it more alive… Although Rosa deserves a point less because, if the sky is that covered, the lightning of the horses and the projection of the shadows would have less intensity. Nevermind. I still like the painting very much.
Before, we noticed that Bonheur wore pants when she went painting. In the 19th century this was little less that outrageous. Our artist had to ask for permission to do it to the police prefect. Despite she explained that she only wore pants only because they were more comfortable, some say that she was gay, as she also lived until she died with a friend from her childhood, Nathalie Micas. Her sexual orientation remains a mystery, however, Bonheur, with her boldness, inspired future generations of woman rights movements.