Rosa Bonheur: The Artists (Auto)biography

Rosa Bonheur: The Artists (Auto)biography

by Gretchen van Slyke, Anna Klumpke

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Hailed as one of the foremost painters of the nineteenth century, Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) lived to see her name become a household word. In a century that did its best to keep women "in their place," she earned her own money, managed her own property, wore trousers, hunted, smoked, and lived in retreat with women companions in a château near Fontainebleau.

Rosa Bonheur: The Artist's (Auto)biography brings this extraordinary woman to life, blending Bonheur's first-person account with the memoirs of Anna Klumpke, a young American artist who was Bonheur's last companion and chosen portraitist. Klumpke recounts their first meeting, her growing affection for the much older Bonheur, and her decision to live with the artist. Bonheur's account of her own life story, set within Klumpke's narrative, sheds light on such currently compelling subjects as gender formation, governmental intervention in the arts, the social and legal regulation of dress codes, and the transgressive nature of same-sex relationships in a repressive society.

"What a pleasure to have this essential document of art history available in an up-to-date translation. Anna Klumpke's biography of Rosa Bonheur is, of course, not only an important art-historical document, but a major contribution to the social history of nineteenth-century France and a moving testimony to human attachment as well." — Linda Nochlin

"The remarkable life of Rosa Bonheur, one of the most highly decorated artists and certainly the best known female artist of her time in nineteenth-century France, is long overdue for further scrutiny." — Therese Dolan, Temple University

"... tells the fascinating, unconventional story of the famous 19th-century French artist. Written by Bonheur's lover, American artist Anna Klumpke, with input from Bonheur herself, the biography effectively shows Bonheur's devotion to the great loves of her life: her mother, her art, and her female companions." — Washington Blade

"A cigar-smoking, cross-dressing eccentric à la George Sand, Rosa Bonheur was one of the 19th century's most popular artists... Drawing on her own meticulous journal entries as well as Bonheur's letters, sketches, and diaries, Klumpke traces Bonheur's trailblazing life and recounts how she met Bonheur, fell in love and became her official portraitist, companion and sole heir." — Publishers Weekly

"It is a treat to have Rosa Bonheur: The Artist's (Auto)biography... available in English. Bonheur (1822-1899), a lesbian born in France, channeled her formidable talent into painting animals, lived a highly unconventional life, and received special permission to wear pants in public... This combination autobiography and biography, originally published in 1908, includes a vibrant introduction by the translator." — Feminist Bookstore News

"Each part of the story — translator's, Klumpke's, and Bonheur's — is so engagingly written that reading it is like an adventure with an emphasis on the development and support of female creativity... Anna Klumpke poured her love into magnificent portraits of Bonheur and later into writing and managing Bonheur's estate. Translator Gretchen van Slyke has rendered the original French into graceful, compelling prose. After finishing this book, my strongest emotion was gratitude for having been allowed to see so intimately into the lives of these productive, caring women." — Lambda Book Report

Product Details

BN ID: 2940161450499
Publisher: Plunkett Lake Press
Publication date: 03/07/2019
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Anna Elizabeth Klumpke (1856-1942) was an American portrait and genre painter born in San Francisco where her father was a successful and wealthy realtor. Among her siblings were astronomer Dorothea Klumpke-Roberts, violinist Julia Klumpke, and neurologist Augusta Déjerine-Klumpke. Following falls at age three and five, her mother took Anna to Berlin for medical treatments, which were not successful: Anna remained hobbled all her life. While in Europe, her mother ensured that her children received excellent tutoring. When Anna was fifteen, her parents divorced. She and her siblings moved with their mother to Göttingen. When she was seventeen, the family moved to Switzerland where Anna attended boarding school for two years.

Anna studied art at home, and in 1877 moved with her family to Paris, where she later enrolled in the Académie Julian (1883-1884). She copied paintings in the Musée du Luxembourg, including Rosa Bonheur’s Ploughing in the Nivernais. She presented her first work at the Paris Salon in 1884, and won the grand prize for outstanding student that year. After completing her studies, she returned to the United States for a few years and taught in Boston. By 1889, she was back in Paris.

Since childhood, Anna had been fascinated by French woman artist Rosa Bonheur. Intent on painting Bonheur’s portrait, she met Rosa Bonheur in 1889, under the pretext of being the interpreter for a horse dealer. The two women were soon living together at Bonheur’s estate in Thomery near Fontainebleau, and their relationship endured until Bonheur’s death in 1899. Klumpke was named sole heir to Bonheur’s estate and oversaw the sale of Bonheur’s collected works in 1900. She founded the Rosa Bonheur Prize at the Société des Artistes Français and organized the Rosa Bonheur museum at the Fontainebleau palace.

Following Bonheur’s death, Klumpke divided her time between France, Boston, and San Francisco, finally settling in San Francisco in the 1930s. During World War I, she established with her mother a military convalescent hospital at her home in Thomery. In 1940, Klumpke published her autobiography Memoirs of an Artist. She is buried alongside Rosa Bonheur at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

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