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“The Horse Fair” by Rosa Bonheur

"The Horse Fair" by Rosa Bonheur

“The Horse Fair” by Rosa Bonheur

“The Horse Fair” by Rosa Bonheur depicts dealers selling horses at the horse market held on the tree-lined Boulevard de l’Hôpital, Paris. Bonheur used a series of sketches of draught horses, which she had made at the Paris horse market.

She attended the market twice weekly for a year and a half for her work. In addition to studies at the Paris horse market, she also modeled her animals on those from the Paris Omnibus Company, which were still horse-powered.

As a realist painter, she broke from tradition in depicting the actual natural horse eye as it is and not using anthropomorphism for emotional effect.

In preparation for her research for this painting, Rosa Bonheur sought permission from the Paris police to dress as a man to avoid drawing attention to herself.

She had earlier studied at a Paris slaughterhouse in 1845, a typical activity for an animal painter that she was the first woman to engage in, and had experienced harassment as a visible woman.

Bonheur routinely wore masculine clothes at home and in the country. She is quoted as saying:

“I am a painter. I have earned my living honestly. My private life is nobody’s concern.” 

Among the influences on Bonheur’s work are sculptures from Ancient Greece. Bonheur described this painting as her own Parthenon Frieze.

With its realistic style extending eight feet tall by sixteen feet broad and energetic movement, this large-scale painting is proto-cinematic in its effect.

Rosa Bonheur

Rosa Bonheur (1822 – 1899) was a French artist, a painter of animals, and a sculptor, known for her artistic realism. Bonheur was considered to be the most famous female painter during the nineteenth century.

The 1905 book called “Women Painters of the World”  was subtitled “from the time of Caterina Vigri, 1413–1463, to Rosa Bonheur and the present day”.

Her most famous work is this monumental, “The Horse Fair.” This work led to international fame and recognition; that same year it was completed, she traveled to Scotland and met Queen Victoria, who admired Bonheur’s work.

There is a smaller version in the National Gallery in London.

Rosa Bonheur’s ‘The Horse Fair’

The Horse Fair

  • Title:                The Horse Fair
  • French:            La foire du cheval
  • Artist:              Rosa Bonheur
  • Year:               1852 and 1855
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:    Height: 244.5 cm (96.2 ″); Width: 506.7 cm (16.6 ft)
  • Museum:        Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Rosa Bonheur

Rosa Bonheur

Explore the MET European Paintings Collection

Art Restoration of Rosa Bonheur’s ‘The Horse Fair’

“The Horse Fair” by Rosa Bonheur


“After rain comes sunshine.“
– French Proverb


Photo Credit: Rosa Bonheur [CC0]

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