The Horse Fair - Rosa Bonheur

Rosa Bonheur was never content to let her last picture remain the best. The great success of her “Oxen Plowing” created in her the desire to do something better. With this in mind she set to work planning her great picture “The Horse Fair,” which was destined to become the most famous horse picture known.

Did she sit down before her canvas and proceed to sketch horses in every conceivable attitude? No. She spent just one and one-half years in preparation before she felt ready to make her picture.

Her friends placed their finest horses at her disposal to use as models, but this was not sufficient. She visited the horse markets where she studied all sorts of beautiful animals and sketched them in every imaginable position. To avoid the rude remarks made about her for entering the horse markets, she donned the attire of a man and then went about her work quietly and persistently.

Her horses were to be two-thirds life size. For that reason an immense canvas was required, and the artist had to continually use a ladder as she worked. This great piece of art was completed in 1853, and was then ready for the Salon. The admiration which this painting received, was beyond that ever received by any other modern picture.

After the picture had been exhibited, Rosa Bonheur received the rare honor of exhibiting any pictures in the future without previous examination—an honor which rarely comes even to a great artist.

Later the painting was exhibited at Ghent. The artist was offered 40,000 francs by Mr. Gambert, a picture dealer, and the offer was accepted. Finally it was bought by a wealthy man in New York who paid 300,000 francs for it, and it now hangs in the Metropolitan Art Museum.

Also of interest is this tidbit:

The French consider “Ploughing” to be Rosa Bonheur’s masterpiece, perhaps because they own it. In England, however, where she is even more highly esteemed than in France, “The Horse Fair,” — which they own! — is called her chef d’ceuvre. It occupied a year and a half in its painting. The studies for it were made in an old horse market. That she might not attract attention in frequenting this place, she adopted male attire.

The original painting is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. A replica is in London, and there exist two others, one in water colors.

“It is a group of twenty or more strong Percheron horses; they are white, dappled, black, and splendid in the energy of action and draught power indicated. Some are ridden, some led by sporting, tricky grooms, whom, notwithstanding their frequent jests at her expense while making her studies, she has as faithfully painted as exultant in the mastery of the noble brutes. The scene is a familiar spot of Paris, with the dome of the Invalides and an avenue of trees seen in the background.

“Solid and firm modelling; accuracy of action rendered with spirit; fidelity to patient observation; the representation of space above, before, and behind her figures; fine rendering of the spirit of the animals, are the qualities of the pictures, and, with the landscape of great grandeur added, represent her style.” — Stranahan.



1. Sketch briefly the life of Rosa Bonheur.
2. What honors were bestowed upon her?
3. Where did Rosa make her home in her later life?
4. How did Rosa Bonheur prepare for the painting of “The Horse Fair”?
5. Tell about the size of the painting.
6. When was it completed? Where first exhibited? Where next? How received?
7. To whom and for how much did Rosa sell this picture? To whom and for how much was it next sold?
8. Where is this picture now?
9. Describe “The Horse Fair.”
10. What do you like best about the picture?



Filed under: Part 3 - Painters

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!