Art UK has updated its cookies policy. By using this website you are agreeing to the use of cookies. To find out more read our updated Use of Cookies policy and our updated Privacy policy.

Rosa Bonheur was born in Bordeaux, France, in 1822. Her early education was disrupted – she was expelled from a number of schools – until her father, a landscape and portrait painter, intervened to begin formally training her as an artist. Her work was first exhibited in the Paris Salon when she was 19, at a time when women were often excluded from the art profession.


'Barbouyo' 1879

Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899)

Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

Barbouyo, in the collection of Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, illustrates the skilled style of realism Bonheur was capable of and celebrated for. Finished in 1879, it is a similar piece to her earlier depiction of an otterhound Brizo, A Shepherd's Dog, now in London's Wallace Collection.

Brizo, A Shepherd's Dog

Brizo, A Shepherd's Dog 1864

Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899)

The Wallace Collection

She studied the anatomy and osteology of animals in abattoirs and in the École nationale vétérinaire d'Alfort in Paris.

The Horse Fair

The Horse Fair 1855

Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899) and Nathalie Micas (c.1824–1899) (possibly)

The National Gallery, London

For her painting The Horse Fair (in The National Gallery), she was granted official police permission to wear men's clothing, which allowed her to attend horse markets, sketching and studying the animals' movements without drawing attention to herself.

She cropped her hair, chain-smoked and wore trousers, shirts and ties, and lived alongside her companion and partner Nathalie Micas for over 40 years. As a queer icon comparable to the likes of England's Anne Lister, Bonheur could potentially be characterised as the French 'Gentleman Jack'. After Nathalie's death in 1889, Bonheur formed a relationship with American painter Anna Klumpke, lasting for the rest of her life. Buried alongside both women at the Père Lachaise cemetery in 1899, the shared headstone reads: 'Friendship is divine affection'.

You can see more art from the Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery on Art UK and find out more on the museum's website.

Catherine McManus, Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery

A version of this article was originally published by The Guardian as part of The Great British Art Tour