Capture the Soul
Rosa Bonheur and animal art

Until January 23, 2023

Château de Fontainebleau

Place Charles de Gaulle – 77300 Fontainebleau

Study of a hunting dog, 8 sketches, detail, Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), Château de Fontainebleau, © RMN-Grand Palais / Adrien Didierjean

On the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), the Château de Fontainebleau highlights, through more than fifty works, some of which exhibited for the first time, the particular link of this artist with “the house of centuries”. This exhibition invites you to rediscover the talent of Rosa Bonheur and to reveal the Château de Fontainebleau as the place of memory wanted by his friend Anna Klumpke.

Rosa Bonheur, through her exceptional animal art, has made France shine on the artistic scene international of his time, as far as the United States. She is the most famous female artist of her time and became the most awarded and decorated female artist of the 19th century. His most symbolic distinction will be to receive from the hands of Empress Eugénie, the first Knight’s Cross of the Legion of Honor awarded to a woman for her talent as an artist.

From the Universal Exhibition of 1853, she exhibited her 5-meter-long canvas The Horse Market. The critics of the time recognize his great talent, which has already earned him official commissions. This painting travels to England and the United States where it meets with immense success; he is exposed now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

In 1860, Rosa Bonheur bought the Château de By, a few leagues from Fontainebleau, where she set up her workshop. She studies the animals of the forest and those sheltering in her large wooded park. In 1864, following the impromptu visit of Empress Eugénie, Rosa Bonheur is received by the imperial couple at the castle of Fontainebleau. A friendship and reciprocal admiration were born between the artist and the Empress.

The American artist Anna Klumpke, a portrait painter, came into Rosa Bonheur’s life in 1889. She is designated universal legatee of the artist and undertakes to perpetuate his memory, it is his “mission sacred”. However, faced with disagreements between the heirs, a sale of all the works that belong to him come back was to be organized in Paris in June 1900, during which Anna Klumpke bought a part of the fund that it then decided to offer to national museums. The proximity of By, the common framework of the forest, the ties that attached Rosa Bonheur to the palace particularly designate the castle of Fontainebleau to host these works and ensure the continuity of his memory.

A first donation was accepted on December 8, 1922; its hanging is inaugurated within the former smoking room of Napoleon III on May 25, 1924. The second donation took place in 1929, thus making it possible to collect an exceptional collection of around a hundred objects, made up of works by Rosa Bonheur, decorations and awards, but also personal souvenirs that the artist presented to Anna Klumpke. The Château de Fontainebleau therefore became the official place of memory of the great artist.

This exhibition proposes to evoke these donations through about fifty paintings, drawings, lithographs, sculptures, awards and decorations, around the great composition commissioned by the State in 1852, La Fenaison in Auvergne. So many works that demonstrate the fascination of Rosa Bonheur for the animal majesty whose soul she wishes to capture.

This exhibition is organized as part of the Festival de l’histoire de l’art, on the theme of animals, which took place at the Château de Fontainebleau from June 3 to 5, 2022, and is part of the events proposed on the occasion of the bicentenary of the birth of Rosa Bonheur, led by the Department of Seine-et-Marne and the castle of Rosa Bonheur in Thomery.

Study of a hunting dog, 8 sketches, detail, Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), Château de Fontainebleau, © RMN-Grand Palais / Adrien Didierjean

Study of a hunting dog, 8 sketches, detail, Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899),
Château de Fontainebleau
© RMN-Grand Palais / Adrien Didierjean


Exhibition Curators

Oriane Beaufils, heritage curator, in charge of the collections of paintings and graphic arts at the Château de Fontainebleau
Vincent Cochet, chief heritage curator, in charge of textiles, ceramics and furniture at the Château de Fontainebleau
Anaïs Dorey, heritage curator, in charge of sculptures and the architectural collection at the Château de Fontainebleau
Florence Porcheron, documentalist at the “Centre de ressources scientifiques” at the Château de Fontainebleau