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  • Writer's pictureKathy Troxler

A Pilgrimage to The Horse Fair

The Horse Fair, Rosa Bonheur Metropolitan Museum of Art

Almost everyone that has an interest in horses has probably seen an image of Rosa Bonheur’s painting of The Horse Fair, and for good reason. This painting was first exhibited in 1853, was an immediate success and cemented her reputation as one one of the most famous artists of her time. At 8 feet in height and over sixteen feet long, the original version is owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, but Bonheur created several other smaller versions of the same painting, some of which are in private collections and one that is on display at the National Gallery in London. The image has been reproduced as lithographs and prints many times since. But it wasn’t until I was researching an entirely different subject that I really learned the story of Rosa Bonheur. Once I did, I came away with good deal of admiration for not only her talent, but her character. Rosa Bonheur was a woman who, long before it was common, not only marched to the beat of her own drum, she thrived while doing it! She worked HARD at her craft and pretty much ignored anyone or anything that got in her way. She stayed focused. Her amazingly realistic depiction of anatomy came from gritty research and dissections. The sort of activity that wasn't thought at all suitable for a woman. So when the reactions of others got in the way of her work, she just dressed like a man and got on with it!

The Horse Fair, Rosa Bonheur Metropolitan Museum of Art

But my curiosity about Rosa Bonheur didn’t actually start with this masterpiece. It actually started when I found a painting of Buffalo Bill Cody by Bonheur! I knew that Buffalo Bill had posed for photos astride Homer Davenport’s imported Arabian stallion Muson and I wanted to know if Muson was the model for the horse Cody was portrayed riding in the Bonheur painting? A bit of research (and a lot of interesting information later) indicates that the dates won’t work! Rosa Bonheur invited Cody to her estate in 1889 and that’s the date of her portrait of Cody. All the information I can find points to 1907 being the year that Homer Davenport had the fantastic idea to have Cody ride imported Arabian stallion Muson at his Wild West Show in Madison Square Garden!

Buffalo Bill Cody, Rosa Bonheur

I'm still hoping to mind more information from when Cody visited Bonheur's estate in France because, just imagine! Flamboyant Wild West showman meets famous french bohemian artist? Wouldn’t that have been a fun party to be in on?!

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