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Bonheur & Beyond: Celebrating Women in Wildlife Art

June 4, 2022 - August 16, 2022

“It wasn’t really until the latter half of the 20th century that women artists started being seriously recognized, but even then, they were still separated from their male contemporaries—recognized as ‘women artists’ rather than ‘artists,’” says Dr. Tammi Hanawalt. “But their work stands out in its own right.” A goal of this exhibit is to bring awareness to the excellence and importance of female artists with work in the Museum’s permanent collection. “We want to recognize women artists as artists and show that their work is valued,” Hanawalt says. “The works in this exhibit are remarkable and are significant contributions in art history. And they all happen to be done by women.” Rosa Bonheur’s artwork is the centerpiece because 2022 marks the 200th anniversary of her birth. The Museum has six Bonheur works in its collection.

Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899) was one of the most famous women artists of the 19th century and one of the most esteemed animal painters in history. Her reputation and popularity grew steadily during the Victorian era, especially among the British middle class. Bonheur’s animal paintings showed her attention to detail from her in-depth studies of animal anatomy to her sensitivity for her subject matter, which aligned with growing interest in animal rights and women’s rights movements. Her rejection of Victorian societal norms, specifically her tendency to dress in what was deemed “masculine” attire, brought her further attention as a point of interest among contemporary audiences. Although Bonheur gained financial and critical success in her time, she was an anomaly. Women artists, particularly those who depict wildlife, have been under recognized throughout history. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of Bonheur’s birth and in honor of the Museum’s 35th anniversary, we present an exhibit featuring works by Bonheur alongside a selection of historic and contemporary pieces by women artists from the permanent collection.

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