The Château of Rosa Bonheur, a story of women

Today, March 8th, on the occasion of the international day of women's rights, we wanted to honor a place which, because of the nonconformist personality who shaped it, by its history and by its atmosphere like no other, touched us particularly. It is the Château of Rosa Bonheur located in Thomery, a few kilometers from Fontainebleau.

We also wanted to emphasize an ambitious project of heritage rehabilitation carried out by women with communicative energy around an artist who was world famous and who has since unjustly fallen into oblivion, in France at least.

Rosa Bonheur, freedom at all costs

Born in 1822 in Bordeaux into a family of artists, Marie Rosalie Bonheur grew up in Paris. Introduced to painting by her father, the painter Raymond Bonheur, she showed exceptional predispositions at a very young age and made a living from her art at the age of 14. In 1839, she began to study animals, which would become her specialty, both in painting and sculpture. Barely 20 years old, she multiplies prizes and medals in the successive salons where she exhibits and gradually acquires an undeniable fame. With her immense painting The Horse Market(2.44 × 5 m) presented at the 1853 Salon, Rosa Bonheur gained international recognition and gradually became the best-selling painter of her century, both in France and in the English-speaking countries, which were particularly fond of animal paintings.

Fiercely independent, refusing to marry in order not to submit to a man and not to harm her art, Rosa Bonheur sought all her life to prove by her actions and through her painting that a woman could free herself from the shackles of her time and exist by herself. It is with short hair and in pants of which she had obtained the right of use by the Prefecture of Paris (the famous permit of disguise) that she traversed forests and fairs with cattle to draw her models in all freedom.

Famous and adored, she rubbed shoulders with all the great names of her time: artists, writers, musicians, Queen Victoria, Napoleon III, Buffalo Bill whose portrait she painted....

The Château de By, a refuge and a kingdom close to nature

Rosa Bonheur was the first woman to buy a property in her own name thanks to the fruits of her labor: in 1859, following the sale of her painting Le Marché aux chevaux, she acquired château de By, a former 15th century seigniorial estate located in the hamlet of By-Thomery in the Seine-et-Marne. She spent the last 40 years of her life there.

The artist settled in this vast residence within a four-hectare property where she had a very large studio built by Jules Saulnier (the architect of the Buissson Farm and the Menier Chocolate Factory) and arranged spaces for her 200 animals of 50 different species: horses, wild boars, bears, wolves, lions, monkeys, roam the immense park in freedom. Rosa Bonheur is convinced that animals have a soul that she tries to render in her painting.

It is at Château de By that the Empress Eugenie herself will come to give him the legion of honor in 1865: by decorating thus for the first time a woman artist, the sovereign wants to show that "the genius does not have sex".

After his death in May 1899, the property reverted to his "adopted daughter" Anna Klumpke, a painter and herself the product of an astonishing sibling group of women ahead of their time: Anna's sisters were neurologists, astronomers and renowned musicians. The different generations of the Klumpke-Dejerine-Sorrel family successively opened and closed the studio until it was taken over by Katherine Brault in September 2017.

Rosa Bonheur's Museum and Workshop, rehabilitating an exceptional artist and reviving an exceptional place

Having fallen under the spell of the place and the exceptional career of the artist, Katherine Brault and her daughters have been working since 2017 to revive the house and the legacy of Rosa Bonheur, measuring every day how lucky they are to be in charge of such a place: an immensely famous artist's studio in its time that has never been modified. In 120 years, no one has ever touched anything. His objects have all remained in the same place: his shoes, cigarette butts, pallets, and a number of drawings, studies and notes. The attic of the house is far from having revealed all its secrets and nuggets are regularly updated.

Today, the public is invited to enter the artist's studio, a fabulous cabinet of curiosities, as if she were still living there, without any barriers, without any staging or museographic device, which allows for a unique and very moving experience of total immersion in the life and work of Rosa Bonheur, while waiting for the possibility of visiting the future exhibition to be held at the Musée d'Orsay on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of her birth in 2022.

The Château of Rosa Bonheur, a timeless place for your events

At the same time family house, country house, château bucolic, neo-Gothic artist's studio as if frozen in time, with hundreds of rosebushes, vines climbing along the walls, the dovecote overlooking the house, the pavilion of the muses at the bend of an alley here everything contributes to give the estate a charming look like an enchanted and enchanting parenthesis.

The château of Rosa Bonheur is a privileged place for the organization of prestigious receptions, intimate dinners or working seminars. The orangery, the stables and the glass roof have been preserved and fitted out in order to offer a beautiful enfilade of more than 160 m2 opened by large glass windows on a vast lawn, the massifs of old rosebushes and the wooded park. The living room, the dining room and the kitchen have that soothing and reassuring je ne sais quoi of chic and bohemian family homes. An ideal setting, authenticity, elegance and pleasure...where one would not be surprised to see the artist appear in pants and blue blouse, brushes in hand .... Rosa Bonheur

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