The Rosa Bonheur Exhibition or elogy to the animal world is being presented at Vernon Museum from 25th April to 20th September.
It was the wish of Vernon Museum, which houses a large collection of animal-based Art to highlight Rosa Bonheur (1822 -1899), one of the great names in the field. The exhibition provides an insight into the artist’s work through a varied selection of her paintings, drawings, engravings and sculptures. Rosa Bonheur who was brought up in a family of artists in fact excelled in several artistic fields, whilst remaining closely attached to representing animals in her work. The exhibition portrays the different aspects of her work but more particularly her productions of horses and the feline species, which clearly illustrate her technical mastery as well as an expert eye.
Rosa Bonheur, who was an exceptional woman as well as an artist, succeeded in asserting herself at a time when it was still forbidden for women to enter the French School of Fine Arts (École des Beaux-Arts). She was the first female artist to be awarded the Legion of Honour in 1865 and lived her life as an entirely free spirit. She was very popular during her lifetime both in France and the United Kingdom as well as in the United States. Thanks to this public acclaim she was able to live from her art.

The exhibition’s structure :
Presenting the artist:
Marie-Rosalie Bonheur, daughter of Sophie Marquis and the artist Raymond Bonheur, was born in Bordeaux on 16th March 1822. Rosa Bonheur, who from a very early age proved to manifest talent through her drawings had a refractory attitude towards a traditional education; thus her father accepted to train her to become an artist. At the age of 14 she was awarded her licence as copyist at the Louvres and was already showing signs of being a relentless worker. She reaped her first Salon success in 1841 at the age of 19, thanks to her painting ‘The Rabbits’, (Les Lapins), which is conserved at the Bordeaux Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux). From this time onwards Rosa Bonheur started to specialize in the animal-based genre, that is, the domain in which she excelled. She quite readily carried out drawings in both abattoirs and livestock markets in order to grasp the form of the animals’ anatomies. Thanks to her monumental painting ‘The Horse Fair’ (Le Marché aux chevaux), which was presented at the 1853 Salon, she was granted fame as well as numerous orders.

‘The Horse Fair’ (Le Marché aux chevaux):
Between 1851 and 1853, Rosa Bonheur worked on the preparation of a huge painting, ‘The Horse Fair’ (Le Marché aux Chevaux). This work measured 2.44m high and 5. 07m long. When it was presented at the 1853 Salon it was met with great success. Both the public and the critics were taken back by the fact that the work itself had been produced by a woman, not only due to the theme chosen by the artist but also because of the painting’s exceptional size. The painting was afterwards purchased by Ernest Gambart, an art dealer of Belgian origin who was established in London and who became not only Rosa Bonheur’s agent but also a very close friend of hers. In 1856 Rosa Bonheur accepted Gambart’s invitation to come to England and Scotland to accompany her painting on a triumphant tour during which she was introduced to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After being the property of several owners, ’The Horse Fair’ was purchased by the wealthy art collector Cornelius Vanderbilt who donated it to the New York Metropolitain Museum, where it it is still housed and exhibited today.

Her travels:
Rosa Bonheur travelled a great deal in the Cantal region of France, the Pyranees, both in England and Scotland and these trips were invariably an opportunity for the artist to carry out much study work. Animals and landscapes which she captured, first of all live, were afterwards used as groundwork in some of her later works. The landscapes which she took on the spot during her travels were to a much greater extent a pretext enabling her to discover a new environment based on which she would then paint works which depicted local animal species. Charmed by species she wasn’t familiar with, she didn’t hesitate therefore to have the cars come to a halt during these visits so that she could capture live and accurately the characteristics of the animals she had discovered. She brought back much study work from her travels in both England and Scotland on species which were unknown in France

The haven of By:
In 1859 Rosa Bonheur purchased her house in By, situated on the edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau in the County of Seine-et-Marne. This house was transformed into a veritable menagerie – stags, sheep, horses and even lions constituted an endless supply of live models which the artist used for many of her paintings. Her walks in the neighbouring Forest of Fontainebleau also provided her with many subjects of inspiration, for example, the trees, wild boars, stags and deers, so many animals captured in their natural habitat. Rosa Bonheur was very attached to this environment particularly conductive to walking and inspiration.
Rosa Bonheur and Buffalo Bill:
In 1889 Rosa Bonheur met General Cody, more commonly known as Buffalo Bill during the Universal Exhibition in Paris. Buffalo Bill was accompanied for the occasion by his famous Wild West Show comprised of Indians, cow-boys, buffalos and horses and his famous stagecoach attack act was hugely successful. Rosa Bonheur was fascinated by this opportunity to meet real Indians and to see real bisons. In fact, Buffalo Bill’s visit with his troop was a chance for the artist to see with her own eyes models which were symbolic of American wildlife. Rosa Bonheur continued to carry out study work on both bisons and horses. She was in fact, immensely interested by the United States which, according to her seemed to be a country which was younger and yet more advanced regarding the position of women in society. A friendly relationship grew between the artist, who was already well-known in America and Buffalo Bill to the extent that she produced his portrait, which later inspired the poster used at the Paris Exhibition. Buffalo Bill was very much attached to this portrait and according to the anecdote he was reported to have uttered ‘Save the Rosa Bonheur painting’ when his house set on fire!

Within the family:
Raymond Bonheur, Rosa Bonheur’s father was also an artist and ran an Art school to support his family. Brothers and sisters were immersed in an artistic environment and constantly in contact with artists who painted animals such as Pierre-Jules Mêne with whom Rosa Bonheur was very close throughout her life and also owned several of Mêne’s bronze statues. Raymond Bonheur allowed his eldest daughter to attend his lessons at a time when it was still forbidden for women to enroll at the French School of Fine Arts (École des Beaux-Arts). Artistic inspiration was not bestowed upon Rosa alone, as both her sister Juliette (1830-1891) and her two brothers Isidore (1827-1901) and Auguste (1824-1884) also became artists in the wake of their famous eldest sister. When their father died in 1849, Rosa took over the Art school where Juliette was her assistant. She later designated the school’s running to Juliette, as her own work as an artist took up the whole of her time.

Practical information:

Open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10.30a.m until 6p.m
Closed on Mondays and certain bank holidays


Full fee: 4€
Concessionary: 2, 50€
Free entry for residents of Vernon, persons aged under 26, teachers, students in Art History, ICOM (International Council Of Museums) members upon presentation of their membership card, unemployed persons and pupils enrolled at schools in both Vernon and the Portes de l’Eure Borough.
Free for all members of the public on the first Sunday of every month.

Contact details:

Musée A.G Poulain
12, rue du Pont 27200 Vernon
Tel. : +33/ (0)2 32 21 28 09 – Fax : +33/ (0)2 32 51 11 17 –