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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Rosa Bonheur

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Monsieur Bonheur suddenly awoke to the fact that his daughter had great talent. He began to teach her carefully, to make her accurate in drawing, and correct in perspective. Then he sent her to the Louvre to copy the works of the old masters. Here she worked with the greatest industry and enthusiasm, not observing anything that was going on around her. Said the director of the Louvre, "I have never seen an example of such application and such ardor for work."

One day an elderly English gentleman stopped beside her easel, and said: "Your copy, my child, is superb, faultless. Persevere as you have begun, and I prophesy that you will be a great artist." How glad those few words made her! She went home thinking over to herself the determination she had made in the school when she ate with her iron spoon, that sometime she would be as famous as her schoolmates, and have some of the comforts of life.

Her copies of the old masters were soon sold, and though they brought small prices, she gladly gave the money to her father, who needed it now more than ever. His second wife had two sons when he married her, and now they had a third, Germain, and every cent that Rosa could earn was needed to help support seven children. "La mamiche," as they called the new mother, was an excellent manager of the meagre finances, and filled her place well.

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Rosa was now seventeen, loving landscape, historical, and genre painting, perhaps equally; but happening to paint a goat, she was so pleased in the work, that she determined to make animal painting a specialty. Having no money to procure models, she must needs make long walks into the country on foot to the farms. She would take a piece of bread in her pocket, and generally forget to eat it. After working all day, she would come home tired, often drenched with rain, and her shoes covered with mud.

She took other means to study animals. In the outskirts of Paris were great abattoirs, or slaughter-pens. Though the girl tenderly loved animals, and shrank from the sight of suffering, she forced herself to see the killing, that she might know how to depict the death agony on canvas. Though obliged to mingle more or less with drovers and butchers, no indignity was ever offered her. As she sat on a bundle of hay, with her colors about her, they would crowd around to look at the pictures, and regard her with honest pride. The world soon learns whether a girl is in earnest about her work, and treats her accordingly.

The Bonheur family had moved to the sixth story of a tenement house in the Rue Rumfort, now the Rue Malesherbes. The sons, Auguste and Isadore, had both become artists; the former a painter, the latter a sculptor. Even little Juliette was learning to paint. Rosa was working hard all day at her easel, and at night was illustrating books, or molding little groups of animals for the figure-dealers. All the family were happy despite their poverty, because they had congenial work.

On the roof, Rosa improvised a sort of garden, with honeysuckles, sweet-peas, and nasturtiums, and here they kept a sheep, with long, silky wool, for a model. Very often Isadore would take him on his back and carry him down the six flights of stairs,--the day of elevators had not dawned,--and after he had enjoyed grazing, would bring him back to his garden home. It was a docile creature, and much loved by the whole family. For Rosa's birds, the brothers constructed a net, which they hung outside the window, and then opened the cage into it.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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