Rosa Bonheur 1822-1899 France
gouache on paper, 11 x 7 inches
In the collection of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College

Rosa Bonheur was a French painter and sculptor.  She was one of the first renowned painters of animals and was the first woman to be awarded the Grand Cross by the French Legion of Honor.  An extremely popular artist during her lifetime, she exhibited at the Paris salon regularly. 

Often mistaken for a man because of her short-cropped hair and strong feature, she was granted permission by the police commissioner to wear men’s attire while painting.  She was married twice, first to her childhood sweetheart Nathalie Micas in a private family ceremony conducted by Nathalie’s father, and after Nathalie’s death to American artist Anna Klumpke.

Bonheur was extremely successful financially.  This allowed her to purchase Château By, a house and farm, near the Fontainebleau Forest and to pay off her father’s debts.  She also supported her siblings throughout her life, despite their objections to her lifestyle.  Bonheur consistently defended her independence and her relationships with Micas and Klumpke. She used her will to force legal recognition of her right to transfer her property to another woman.


Stanton, Theodore, ed.  Reminiscences of Rosa Bonheur.  New York, 1910.

Vicinus, Martha, ed.  Lesbian Subjects: A Feminist Studies Reader.  Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1996.

---.  Intimate Friends: Women Who Loved Women, 1778-1928.  University of Chicago, 2004.