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Women artists who broke boundaries

Posted November. 16, 2023 08:18,   

Updated November. 16, 2023 08:18


A gray-haired painter sits before an easel. Holding a sheet of paper that appears to be a sketch in one hand, she has a pencil in the other. She is gazing beyond the painting with her body turned. Who is this woman, wearing her hair short like a man and a relaxed expression‎?

This painting, ‘Portrait of Rosa Bonheur’ (1898), was created by American painter Anna Klumpke. The French artist was known for her paintings of animals in France. When Klumpke turned 21 in 1880, she went to Paris, studied art for eight years, and returned to Boston as a portrait painter. Ten years later, though, she returned to Paris to paint the portrait of Bonheur, whom she admired and looked up to. When Bonheur was only 27, she won the top prize at a salon exhibition with a painting titled ‘Labourage nivernai dit aussi Le Sombrage,’ rising to instant stardom. She visited slaughterhouses or horse markets to depict lively paintings of horses or oxs, which was unconventional for a female artist back then. She also challenged customs in her daily life. She had short hair, wore trousers, smoked, and loved women. All of them had been taboo back then.

Klumpki was 42 and Bonheur 76 when ‘Portrait of Rosa Bonheur’ was created. Both felt attracted to each other as Klumpki painted a portrait of the artist she looked up to, and Bonheur became the model for a younger artist from another country. Klumpki did not return home and stayed with Bonheur, who set up an atelier for the young artist. In return, Klumpki painted the portrait.

Their friendship and love continued after Bonheur’s death, which occurred in the following year. Klumpki, who inherited her house and atelier, founded an art school for women and a museum, devoting herself to promoting Bonheur’s achievements throughout her life. Forty-three years later, she was buried alongside Bonheur. They were great women who fought and challenged themselves to achieve success at a time when it was rare for women to have careers, love, and stand with each other.