Born in 1822, French artist Marie-Rosalie (Rosa) Bonheur was a trailblazer in the 19th century. She gained critical acclaim in the art world during an era when women artists rarely were recognized. Painting in the Realist style, Bonheur established herself as a skilled landscape artist and the premier “animalier,” or animal painter, of the time.
Bonheur had a deep love for animals and owned many, including horses, lions and even an otter. Her careful study of creatures led to precise, exact depictions. Her work was well-known throughout Europe and America
She was one of four children, and all became artists. They were educated by their father, Oscar-Raymond Bonheur, a trained artist and a political activist, involved with the Saint-Simonians. The radical group believed in the abolition of class distinctions and equality of men and women, which contributed to Rosa Bonheur’s liberal outlook and non-traditional expectations. She often dressed as a male and smoked cigarettes and cigars. For her entire life, she was fiercely independent and an early feminist. She died in 1899.