Women at work: Rosa Bonheur

Rosa Bonheur was one of a kind—the most renowned female artist of her day and fiercely independent, dressing like a man in defiance of Victorian-era gender roles.

Most of her work featured animals—lions, horses, goats. She frequented slaughterhouses to better understand the anatomy and emotions of animals. “I became an animal painter because I loved to move among animals,” she said. “I would study an animal and draw it in the position it took, and when it changed to another position I would draw that.”

Her immense painting The Horse Fair triumphed at the Paris Salon in 1853, becoming one of the most celebrated paintings of the century. She became rich and famous, a success unprecedented for women artists.

Bonheur's "The Horse Fair" arrives at Mia in 1969.

Bonheur’s “The Horse Fair” arrives at Mia in 1969.

The Horse Fair wound up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has left only twice since 1969: once to Mia that year and once to her birthplace in France. In 1992, Mia ironically acquired one of Bonheur’s smallest works, an artist’s palette that she painted with a scene of a deer.

—written with Eleanor Hohulin, Learning Innovation intern at Mia

“Women at Work” celebrates Women’s History Month by highlighting female artists in Mia’s collection.

Images: (left) Rosa Bonheur; (right) Bonheur’s artist’s palette in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art