SN 433
by Rosa Bonheur

By: Helen Gokbudak, Docent. Date: April 11, 2000

1. Description for the “Awe Inspired Neophyte” leading to “Art Motivated Novice”

This painting is a daylight scene showing two teams of oxen plowing a field. Each team includes three pairs of oxen and is attached with chains to each other and the plow. There is a man holding each of the plows and a man holding a prodding-stick on the left side of each of the teams. The color of the sky is pale blue with white puffy clouds, more clouds on the left than on the right, the sky is in the upper third of the picture. The teams of oxen are walking to the right with the freshly turned earth beneath them. The green grass and unplowed earth are in the forefront of the painting. There is a hill with trees visible to the left third of the painting.

The first team of oxen to the right is larger and is in the forefront of the painting, the team of oxen following is smaller giving the perspective of being further away and also of making a turn to the left.

The men plowing have brimmed black hats, pants and long sleeved shirts, facial features are not distinct. The first man holding the prodding-stick has a black brimmed hat, with pants and long sleeved shirt. The second man holding a prodding-stick with the second team of oxen has only the shoulder and head visible, he has a dark red beret in place.

The oxen vary in color from white, beige, as the first two and then, white and beige, brown and tan, the last four oxen are small and are whitish in color. The fur and folds of the skin are very natural in appearance. The horns, eyes, facial features and musculature of the animals give an impression of reality and of movement. The shadows on the animals and on the earth demonstrate that the lighting is coming from the left. The freshly plowed earth is in clumps and shining with freshly turned earth color, this is in contrast to the forefront of the picture with the grass green and earth flat and brownish in color.

This is a horizontal painting showing the movement of the oxen plowing the field, from left to right of the canvas. The facial features of the oxen are distinct whereas the men working do not have distinct facial features. The painting is oil on canvas and is 52.5 inches x 102 inches, the artist’s name and date of 1850 are on the right lower corner of the canvas. The frame is gold colored and has the name of the artist , Rosa Bonheur, in the upper middle of the frame, and the title of the painting, Labourages Nivernais, in the lower middle of the frame.

II. Description for the Advanced Amateur

Rosa Bonheur was a nineteenth century French artist, born in 1822 and died in 1899. She painted images of animals in naturalistic landscapes with scientific accuracy and a fidelity to direct observation characteristic of the movement known as Realism.

She studied under her father, an artist, who was part of the utopian socialist Saint-Simion movement: a movement supporting the complete equality of women with men and the idea of a society based on love.. At the age of 11, her mother died, and she was given the responsibility for the care of her three younger siblings. As part of her art education ,she copied paintings from the Louvre, mostly the Dutch masters including Paulus Potter, an animal painter, who specialized in cattle and sheep.

In 1848, animal painting as an offshoot of realism and landscape painting became popular in France. The government of the new Second Republic of France encouraged the landscape and animal painters and Rosa received a commission from the state for a painting on the subject of plowing. Plowing in Nivernais was inspired by a novel by George Sand called the The Mare au diable, Devil’s Pond., which described the lives of peasants and the cycles of nature. The French Revolution had established the idea of the importance of the individual, fostering a trend toward originality. It had swept away the patronage system by suppressing the clergy and dispersing the nobility, the artist was left free to paint as he chose. In 1852, she obtained official permission to wear men’s clothing so she could study animal anatomy in the slaughter houses of Paris.

The French Government commission “Labourages Nivernais” or Plowing in Nivernais was completed in 1849 and brought Rosa Bonhuer further critical and popular acclaim when exhibited at the Salon. This painting is in the Muse’e d’Orsay, Paris, and is 68.1inches x 102.36 inches. There are two other versions of this painting: one at the R.W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport, LA; and the other painted in 1850 is at the Ringling Museum and is 52.5 inches by 102 inches. It is stated that there are differences in the size and in the left background. but details are not given.(Shriver, Rosalia, 1982,p.29)

She was the first woman artist to be honored with the highest award of the French government, the Cross of the Legion of Honor. The empress of France presented the medal to her in her studio in 1865. She painted Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild West Show performers in 1889,when they visited Paris. It has been stated that John Ringling would refer painters for the Circus to study Rosa Bonheur’s paintings.

COLL: Viscount Hambledon; sold at Christie‘s, London, March 1929, No. 177.

Another version of the same composition signed and dated 1847 is in the Musee du Luxembourg, Paris.