Who is Rosa Bonheur, that today’s Google Doodle is celebrating?


Art historians have described Rosa Bonheur as amongst the greatest animal painters in the West. Other than her art, she is also well regarded for her feminist pursuits.

Art historians have described Rosa Bonheur as amongst the greatest animal painters in the West. Other than her art, she is also well regarded for her feminist pursuits.

About today: Tech company Google on Wednesday published a doodle celebrating the 200 th birth anniversary of French painter, Rosa Bonheur. The search engine operator stated her successful career inspired a future generation of women in the arts. It added that pursuing a career in arts was unconventional at the time, irrespective, the French painter closely followed the development of artistic tradition through years of careful study and preparing sketches before “immortalizing them on canvas”.  

Her reputation as an animal painter and sculptor grew into the 1840s, with many of her works exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon from 1841 to 1853. Google states that art scholars believed the 1849 exhibition of Plowing in Nivernais, presently housed in France’s Musée Nationale du Château de Fontainebleau, established her as a professional artist. Her most celebrated work The Horse Fair won her international acclaim. The painting, presently in New York’s Metroplitan Museum of Art, depicted the Parisian horse market. The painting toured Great Britain and United States and was widely disseminated as a print, states the U.K. National Gallery.  

She was accorded the nation’s most prestigious award Legion of Honor by French Empress Eugénie in 1865.  

The artist and her inspiration  

The late Art Historian Albert Boime described her as one of the greatest animal painters in the history of western art and the best-known women artist of the nineteenth century. According to him, the French painter related to animals in a highly personal way. “They aroused in her unconscious urges and spontaneous warmth. It was as if they evoked some primitive instinct and stimulated her to get beneath the outer shell and disclose the locus of animal personality,” he states.  

Mr. Boime said her capacity to identify with animals remained a critical aspect of her career. He adds that Ms. Bonheur believed the “eye was the mirror of the soul in all creatures”. It was through the eye that the painter believed she could understand better the nature of animals.  

“Her preference for animals over human beings is amply demonstrated in her art. She painted animals mainly for themselves rather than as accessories to people or as metaphors for the human predicament,” he states.  

She received her earliest education in art from her father. Several art historians have argued that her father was astonishingly liberated for the time. He generously shared his knowledge with his children and never treated Ms. Bonheur differently from her brothers.  

Art for her was a means of assuring her immortality, states Mr. Boime.  

The feminist  

Other than her artistic acclaim, the French painter in later years became a hero of the feminist movement, writes Mr. Boime. He states that Ms. Bonheur broke through “the confining Victorian restrictions and excessive sexual polarisation” to pursue full-time her passion for art.  

Ms. Bonheur despised frills and jewellery and embraced elements of masculine guise. Historian Boime argues this was more in practical terms for it endowed convenience and ‘acceptability’ in hunt or at a workplace. The acclaimed painter was fond of tobacco, rolled her own cigarettes and was a chain-smoker. Her love for hunting and shooting earned her the nickname The Diana of Fontainebleau’.  

She emphatically rejected the domestic role for herself and ridiculed marriage.