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Lesbian Artist: Rosa Bonheur by Barbara Grier alias Gene Damon [from Lesbian Lives, Reproduced with permission from author] In 1895 Rosa Bonheur was made an officer of the "Legion of Honor", France's highest honor. She was the first woman to be so honored. With the exception of Sappho, no admittedly Lesbian woman ever received the unanimous acclaim that Rosa Bonheur did in her lifetime. Rosa Bonheur was born in 1822. Her father, Raymond Bonheur, was an art teacher and her mother, Sophie Marquis Bonheur, had been his pupil. As a child Rosa's father permitted her to study art in his all male class, an unheard of thing at that time. She was immediately recognized as a talented artist while very young and some of her biographies mention that when she was older she adopted male clothing in order to be able to frequent market places and paint undisturbed. However, the facts show that Rosa adopted male garb before she left her earliest teens. There is a color reproduction of a portrait of Rosa Bonheur by the famous French artist Corot in the art periodical International Studio, v. 97, p. 51, December, 1930, which shows Rosa as a girl of perhaps 13 or 14 dressed fully as a boy. Raymond Bonheur was a follower of the "Saint Simonian" movement in France, which held similar ideas to the "women's rights" movement in America. It is not surprising that Rosa Bonheur had a more liberal home atmosphere than many of her contemporaries. At the beginning of her adult career, Rosa Bonheur formed an ardent attachment with Nathalie Micas. Nathalie Micas and her mother, Mme. Micas, lived at "By" with Rosa. Mme. Micas was Rosa Bonheur's housekeeper and these three women lived together until Nathalie Micas died in 1889. The biography and autobiography entitled Reminiscences of Rosa Bonheur, edited by Theodore Stanton, NY., Appleton, 1910, gives a detailed account of their life together. An intensely talented woman, Rosa Bonheur filled her life with successive artistic triumphs. Her beautiful canvases hang in all the great museums of the world. A single listing of her more famous animal canvases would fill a dozen pages. Probably the celebrated "Horse Fair" is her best known work. For her period she was a powerful personality and without ostentation she calmly ignored all the conventions she personally found unnecessary. She used tobacco, which was definitely not considered proper for a woman to use under any circumstances. In 1857 the Secretary-General of France issued a permit to Rosa Bonheur which allowed her to dress as a man legally. There are a number of amusing anecdotes concerning her disregard for hindering conventions cited in the above named biography. On one occasion a male friend teased her about going about in the company of men unchaperoned, and she replied, "Oh my dear Sir, if you knew how little I care for your sex, you wouldn't get any ideas into your head. The fact is, in the way of males, I like only the bulls I paint." On another occasion when Miss Bonheur was dressed as a woman, a policeman noticed her short hair and free and easy manners and arrested her thinking she was a man dressed as a woman. He was most chagrined to be introduced to the then most famous French artist by his own superiors. The culmination of her artistic career was her presentation of the Cross of the "Legion of Honor" by the Empress Eugenie. Miss Bonheur only lived four years after that but her few remaining years were enriched by the companionship of a young American artist, Anna E. Klumpke. Rosa Bonheur's letters to friends make it clear that Miss Klumpke helped ease her loneliness, but Rosa never again was as happy and free as she was when Nathalie Micas lived. Rosa Bonheur followed her beloved friend into death in 1899. Always a prolific writer she left a just and accurate summation of her life in one of her letters: "I have no patience with women who ask permission to think. Let women establish their claims by great and good works, and not by conventions." [Rosa Bonheur is indeed a very interesting woman. A naturalistic painter who's subjects included horses, dogs, bulls, lions, sheep, rabbits and a host of other animals. She owned quite a managerie: "one horse, one he-goat, one otter, seven lapwings, one monkey, one sheep, one donkey, [and] two dogs" (Stanton, 41) and apparently also at one time a lion. She was so popular that there was even a Rosa Bonheur doll! Rosa lived with her female companions in a chateau near Fontainebleau which she called "The Domain of Perfect Affection". Rosa Bonheur's (Auto)biography, written by Anna Klumpke, Rosa's portraitist and second companion after Natalie Micas' death, has been recently translated from by Gretchen van Slyke and is available through University of Michigan Press. It is proported to discuss the lesbian nature of their relationship.]