Rosa Bonheur spread France on the international art scene of her period, up to the United States through her exceptional animal art. At that time, she was the most famous female artist and became the most awarded and decorated female artist of the 19th century. Her most symbolic distinction was to receive the Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honor awarded to a woman for her talent as an artist from Empress Eugenie herself.
From the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations of 1853, she exhibited her 5-meter-long canvas “The Horse Market”. Critics recognised her great talent, as she already obtained official commissions. This painting traveled to England and the United States where it met with great success; it is on display today at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
In 1860, Rosa Bonheur bought the Château de By, a few miles from Fontainebleau, where she set up her studio. She studied the animals of the forest and those sheltering in her large wooded park. In 1864, following the impromptu visit of Empress Eugenie, Rosa Bonheur was received by the imperial couple at the Château de Fontainebleau. A friendship and reciprocal admiration were born between the artist and the Empress.
The American artist Anna Klumpke, a portrait painter, came into Rosa Bonheur’s life in 1889. She was designated the artist’s sole heir and committed to perpetuating her memory, it was her “mission sacrée” (sacred duty). However, facing disagreements between the heirs, a sale of all the works belonging to her had to be organised in Paris in June 1900, during which Anne Klumpke purchased a part of the collection. Then, she decided to offer the collection to national museums. The Château de Fontainebleau, because of its proximity to By, its common setting of the forest and the special connection between Rosa Bonheur for the palace, is designated to host these works and to ensure the perpetuity of her memory.
A first donation was accepted on 8 december 1922; its hanging was inaugurated in the former smoking room of Napoleon III on 25 may 1924. The second donation took place in 1929 with an exceptional collection of around a hundred objects. It consists of works by Rosa Bonheur, decorations and awards, but also personal souvenirs that the artist gave to Anna Klumpke. Therefore, the Château de Fontainebleau became the official place of memory of the great artist.
This exhibition proposes to bring around fifty works of these donations, including paintings, drawings, lithographs, sculptures, awards and decorations, based around the great composition commissioned by the State in 1852, “La Fenaison en Auvergne“. All of these works demonstrate Rosa Bonheur’s fascination for the majestic animals, whose souls she captured so well.
Oriane Beaufils, heritage curator, in charge of the collections of paintings and graphic arts at the Château de Fontainebleau
Vincent Cochet, chief heritage curator, in charge of textiles, ceramics and furniture at the Château de Fontainebleau
Anaïs Dorey, heritage curator, in charge of sculptures and the architectural collection at the Château de Fontainebleau
Florence Porcheron, documentalist at the “Centre de ressources scientifiques” at the Château de Fontainebleau
Around the exhibition
The exhibition will be accompanied by a book “Rosa Bonheur. Capturer l’âme” which will present the entire Rosa Bonheur collection kept at the Château de Fontainebleau.
19 € tax incl.
Available at the château bookstore on 3 June
Opening hours and days
It is accessible in the circuit of the palace, in free visit, the weekends until 23 January 2023.
On weekends, the exhibition is included in the entrance ticket to the château for self-guided tours.
This exhibition is organised as part of the The Art History Festival, featuring the theme of animals, to be held at the Château de Fontainebleau from 3 to 5 June 2022, and is part of one of the events proposed for the bicentenary of the birth of Rosa Bonheur, led by the Department of Seine-et-Marne and the château de Rosa Bonheur in Thomery.