In a global effort to resurrect recognition for great female artists, Rosa Bonheur’s work has found renewed popularity in the art world—and at Meadow Brook Hall.
Bonheur was the most famous female artist in the 19th century whose work focused on realistic animal subjects. A major exhibition on Bonheur’s works was on display at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 2022-23, featuring nearly 200 pieces and dozens of supporting prints and photographs by other artists, some of them never seen publicly in France.
Her work also has a home at Meadow Brook Hall. Stroll down the gallery connecting the Great Hall and the Christopher Wren Dining Room to view a collection of paintings featuring pastoral scenes and you will see an original Bonheur painting, The Hay Cart.
Born into a family of artists, Bonheur was a painter from a young age who was passionate about wildlife. She was a master of animal anatomy and believed all animals had a soul, which could be perceived through their eyes.
Bonheur always depicted animals as the main subjects in her paintings, often having the creatures stare directly at the viewer while humans were painted looking to the side. Even in her self-portrait, a bull is painted staring at the viewer while the artist herself looks away from the viewer.
Bonheur was a detail-oriented painter who received special permission to wear pants – a rare sight in Victorian times – so she could enter slaughterhouses and learn how to accurately capture animal anatomy.
Aside from being a great artist, Bonheur was a proud woman at a time where women still were not well respected in society. Her feminist views played a major role in her ambition of being a great female artist.
Bonheur went on to become the first woman to be awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1876, the highest civilian-awarded French decoration.
Meadow Brook Hall proudly hangs an original Rosa Bonheur painting just outside the Christopher Wren Dining Room. The Hay Cart was painted in 1897, two years before Rosa Bonheur passed away.
With much of her life spent in farm and pastoral settings, perhaps, Matilda Dodge Wilson shared Rosa Bonheur’s feeling of connection to the animals Bonheur captured in her artwork.
View The Hay Cart by Rosa Bonheur and more artwork by other famous painters on a tour of Meadow Brook Hall. Plan your visit at meadowbrookhall.org/tours.
For more stories about Meadow Brook’s collection and the family that lived here, visit our History at The Hall storytelling series.
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