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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Rosa Bonheur

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At nineteen Rosa was to test the world, and see what the critics would say. She sent to the Fine Arts Exhibition two pictures, "Goats and Sheep" and "Two Rabbits." The public was pleased, and the press gave kind notices. The next year "Animals in a Pasture," a "Cow lying in a Meadow," and a "Horse for sale," attracted still more attention. Two years later she exhibited twelve pictures, some from her father and brother being hung on either side of hers, the first time they had been admitted. More and more the critics praised, and the pathway of the Bonheur family grew less thorny.

Then, in 1849, when she was twenty-seven, came the triumph. Her magnificent picture, "Cantal Oxen," took the gold medal, and was purchased by England. Horace Vernet, the president of the commission of awards, in the midst of a brilliant assembly, proclaimed the new laureate, and gave her, in behalf of the government, a superb Sevres vase.

Raymond Bonheur seemed to become young again at this fame of his child. It brought honors to him also, for he was at once made director of the government school of design for girls. But the release from poverty and anxiety came too late, and he died the same year, greatly lamented by his family. "He had grand ideas," said his daughter, "and had he not been obliged to give lessons for our support, he would have been more known, and to-day acknowledged with other masters."

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Rosa was made director in his place, and Juliette became a professor in the school. This same year appeared her "Plowing Scene in the Nivernais," now in the Luxembourg Gallery, thought to be her most important work after her "Horse Fair." Orders now poured in upon her, so that she could not accede to half the requests for work. A rich Hollander offered her one thousand crowns for a painting which she could have wrought in two hours; but she refused.

Four years later, after eighteen long months of preparatory studies, her "Horse Fair" was painted. This created the greatest enthusiasm both in England and America. It was sold to a gentleman in England for eight thousand dollars, and was finally purchased by A. T. Stewart, of New York, for his famous collection. No one who has seen this picture will ever forget the action and vigor of these Normandy horses. In painting it, a petted horse, it is said, stepped back upon the canvas, putting his hoof through it, thus spoiling the work of months.

So greatly was this picture admired, that Napoleon III. was urged to bestow upon her the Cross of the Legion of Honor, entitled her from French usage. Though she was invited to the state dinner at the Tuileries, always given to artists to whom the Academy of Fine Arts has awarded its highest honors, Napoleon had not the courage to give it to her, lest public opinion might not agree with him in conferring it upon a woman. Possibly he felt, more than the world knew, the insecurity of his throne.

Henry Bacon, in the Century, thus describes the way in which Rosa Bonheur finally received the badge of distinction. "The Emperor, leaving Paris for a short summer excursion in 1865, left the Empress as Regent. From the imperial residence at Fontainebleau it was only a short drive to By (the home of Mademoiselle Bonheur). The countersign at the gate was forced, and unannounced, the Empress entered the studio where Mademoiselle Rosa was at work. She rose to receive the visitor, who threw her arms about her neck and kissed her. It was only a short interview. The imperial vision had departed, the rumble of the carriage and the crack of the outriders' whips were lost in the distance. Then, and not till then, did the artist discover that as the Empress had given the kiss, she had pinned upon her blouse the Cross of the Legion of Honor." Since then she has received the Leopold Cross of Honor from the King of Belgium, said to be the first ever conferred upon a woman; also a decoration from the King of Spain. Her brother Auguste, now dead, received the Cross of the Legion of Honor in 1867, two years after Rosa.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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