oil on canvas, 8 3/4" x 39 1/2"
Gift of Howard W. Lyon
Rosa Bonheur came from a family of artists.
Her father Raymond, who was a painter and his daughter’s first
art teacher, subscribed to the beliefs of Saint-Simonian socialism,
a utopian program that preached, among other things, equality of the
sexes. Her brother Isidore was a sculptor of animals. Despite the odds
against a woman artist achieving lasting fame, with this early encouragement
and training, combined with her talent and dedicated will, Bonheur
came to be recognized internationally as one of the leading animaliers
of her generation. Before she was granted special permission to do
so, Bonheur often disguised herself as a man in order to study animals
in slaughterhouses, when prevailing societal attitudes would have barred “the
fairer sex” from such places. This first-hand study of anatomy
lends her works an almost scientific accuracy, which distinguished
it from the relatively sentimentalized and anthropomorphized animals
in paintings by the well-known British animalier Edwin Landseer. In
exchange for a number of studies of stallions she made for the Royal
Horse Association, its president, John Arbuckle, gave Bonheur the horses
pictured in the Tweed’s American Mustangs. Originally from Arbuckle’s
Wyoming ranch and named Apache and Clair de Lune, the wild horses roamed
freely on Bonheur’s estate, the Chateau of By in the Fontainebleau
forest. When William Cody’s Wild West Show traveled to Paris
in 1889, the staged exploits of Native American performers and wild
animals captured the imagination and interest of the French public,
and also attracted artists like Bonheur, Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch.
Bonheur visited the show daily, making sketches that resulted in at
least seventeen paintings, including a portrait of Buffalo Bill. When
Cody visited Le By, Bonheur made him a gift of the two horses, whereupon
they were taken to join his show.