In February’s Born To Be Wild, I described Constantin Brâncuşi as a modernist whose own personal art movement was ever and always away from the representational. And the very representationalism from which he distanced himself might be personified in the French realist Rosa Bonheur. Might be. If it weren’t for the fact that, even in Bonheur’s realism, the revolution was already brewing.
Born March 16, 1822, Rosa was doomed to art from the very start. She was the daughter of landscape and portrait painter, Raimond Bonheur, and sister to artists Auguste, Juliette and Isidore Jules Bonheur. By the time her music-teacher mother taught her to read and write (having Rosa draw a different animal for each letter of the alphabet), the crayon handwriting was on the wall, and she was destined to become what some believe the most famous female painter of the 1800s.
But despite her realist’s dedication to objectivity, I think Bonheur showed her true colors in how she painted. She was a dedicated animalière, or animal artist, and by romanticizing the subject she loved, she may have drawn a new line in the sand to mark art’s steady progression away from pictures of things to pictures of ideas, as Realism was followed by Impressionism followed by Photography followed by Picasso. In her massive The Horse Fair (1835-55, detail above), giant bobtails, their preeminence at the time threatened by horses of the iron variety, appear on the verge of rioting.