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Rosa Bonheur - The power of the animal

Rosa Bonheur - De kracht van het dier
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This autumn, The Mesdag Collection presents the first exhibition by French artist Rosa Bonheur

One of the most famous artists of the 18th century

With her heartfelt, monumental paintings of animals, Rosa Bonheur became one of the most famous artists of her time. An independent woman, she led a headstrong life that was at odds with the conventions of the 19th century. Bonheur was the first woman to be appointed Officer of the Légion d'honneur, France's highest award. During the 20th century, however, she fell into oblivion. Since recent years, there has been a renewed appreciation of her work.


Bonheur was one of the first women to opt for a bob-line hairstyle and wore trousers as well as skirts. As an unmarried woman, she nurtured her independence on her own self-acquired estate near the Fontainebleau forest. There, she filled her life as she wished, largely in the company of her childhood friend Nathalie Micas and later the American artist Anna Klumpke.

Renske Suijver, curator of The Mesdag Collection: ‘Rosa Bonheur was an important figurehead for women in art in France, just as Sientje Mesdag-van Houten was in the Netherlands. Although Bonheur's art is deeply rooted in the 19th century, it is interesting to reflect on the present through her work.

The soul of the animal

Rosa Bonheur had a special love for animals and was sensitive to the suffering they had to endure in slaughterhouses. In her yard, she kept dozens of animal species, including sheep, horses, monkeys, dogs, birds and even lions. She strove to depict animals as objectively as possible while penetrating their souls. After all, animals had souls, she believed. A progressive view for the time.

Study method

Bonheur walked with her monkeys, cuddled with her lions and photographed dead animals in various poses to study them as closely as possible. In preparation for her large paintings, Bonheur produced numerous sketches and studies to get to know her subjects as well as possible. Partly because of this, she developed her own style, expressing the free power and soul of animals.

Rosa Bonheur. The Power of the Animal focuses on Bonheur's love of animals and her studious approach. The exhibition features various landscape studies, drawings, oil sketches and sculptures, in which the making process is clearly visible. The works thus echo the predilection of Hendrik Willem Mesdag and Sientje Mesdag-van Houten, who collected many sketchy works by fellow artists.

Dates and Times

20 September 19 January 2025
10:00 – 17:00
10:00 – 17:00
10:00 – 17:00
10:00 – 17:00
10:00 – 17:00
The Mesdag Collection is open during the period from 4 November to 31 December on
Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm.
€ 0,00 - 13,00
Adults € 13,00
Children 0 - 18 years Free
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