If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Bonheur, Sheep in the Highlands

Rosa Bonheur, Sheep in the Highlands, 1857, oil on canvas, 46 x 65 cm (Wallace Collection, London) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris, Dr. Steven Zucker The Wallace Collection suggests that this painting is likely the result of a trip that the artist made to Scotland the previous year. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(piano music playing) Steven: We're in the Wallace Collection and we're looking at a Rosa Bonheur. This is called Sheep and it's on a wall with lots of other paintings, but we both noticed how it just really stands out. Beth: It really does. The effect of real light in this landscape is remarkable and you know, she was an animal painter, but the landscape is also really, pretty fabulous. Steven: And It's a complicated landscape. You have rain in a couple of areas then light coming through and what I find so incredibly complex is the way the light plays on the fur of the sheep, as well as the brush and the grass in the foreground. It's so complicated. It's a sense of minute Beth: Yes. Beth: It almost, in some ways, reminds me of a pre-Raphaelite painting in its attention to detail and actually observing nature instead of a kind of academic formula. Steven: When you look at the paintings of women of the 19th century, we so often see domestic scenes, but here she is out in nature. Beth: And it wasn't easy for her to do that. Steven: No, not at all. I mean, this is relatively a pastoral scene, but nevertheless her paintings really do show animals in a much more aggressive way. Beth: We know that Rosa Bonheur, obviously, wasn't easy for her as a woman to be a professional artist and in fact, in order to sort of be out in the fields and painting animals, it was much more efficient and comfortable to wear pants which she actually Steven: That's right, I remember that. Yes. to wear pants like so many women who became successful artists her family included male artists, so that's how she would have learned how to paint because, of course, women could not just simply go to art school. Steven: It was accepted for women to dabble in painting. They certainly could take private lessons, but it was at the level of amateur and Rosa Bonheur has really transcended that and become a professional, which was an extremely rare and somewhat provocative thing to do. Beth: And she had the support of her family. Her family was very progressive in that way and really encouraged her and her father was a painter, her siblings were painters and her mother encouraged her to draw. Steven: If I remember correctly, she ended up being quite successful financially. I think she had a very strong reputation, although it was a narrow reputation, again, as an animal painter. Beth: You know, when you see such a beautiful painting like this by a woman artist, it's impossible not to think about all the women who didn't have that support of their family, who could have become great painters and didn't. (piano music playing)