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The Horse Fair

Artist: Rosa Bonheur
Created: 1853-55
Dimensions (cm): 506.7 x 244.5
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

In 1853, Rosa Bonheur painted The Horse Fair which was considered later on as one of her most important and recognized works of art.

The Horse Fair shows the horse market held in Paris on boulevard de l’Hopital, near the asylum of Salpetrière, visible in the left hand side of the background. What is interesting, is that for over a year, Bonheur would go there to make sketches of the animals dressed as a man. (This was not an event normally attended by women). She believed in direct observation of her subjects and was determined to be accurate in details.

In the painting, the horses run around energetically in a circle, showing off their value to potential customers. Bonheur successfully conveys to us their power and majesty while their handlers concentrate on keeping them under control. The viewer’s attention is focused on the brown, black and white horses and by plain surroundings, a wall, trees and small patches of sky. There are red ribbons, red bridles, and red stripes on the saddle clothes surrounding the horses. The foreground is open; there is no barrier that exists between the viewer and the animals.

The Horse Fair was exhibited at the salon in 1853 and in 1854 in Bonheur’s hometown. It is hard to believe that her own municipality refused to buy her painting for 12 000 francs. But they did! However, to the artist’s delight, it was sold the following year for 40 000 francs to a London dealer.

Although the canvas was finished and signed by Bonheur, it was begun by her life-long friend, Nathalie Micas. The painting The Horse Fair was received enthusiastically and attained widespread popularity in England and engravings were made and sold in a number of other countries as well.


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