The Horse Fair

The Horse Fair
Rosa bonheur horse fair 1835 55.jpg
ArtistRosa Bonheur Edit this on Wikidata
Mediumoil paint, canvas
SubjectParis horse market Edit this on Wikidata
Dimensions244.5 cm (96.3 in) × 506.7 cm (199.5 in)
LocationMetropolitan Museum of Art
Accession No.87.25 Edit this on Wikidata
IdentifiersRKDimages ID: 221143
The Met object ID: 435702

The Horse Fair is an oil-on-canvas painting by French artist Rosa Bonheur, begun in 1852 and first exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1853. The artist added some finishing touches in 1855. The large work measures approximately 96 by 200 inches (2.4 m × 5.1 m).[1]

The painting depicts dealers selling horses at the horse market held on the Boulevard de l’Hôpital, Paris. The notorious hospital of Salpêtrière can be seen in the left background.

The painting is on view in the Metropolitan Museum in Gallery 812.


Two studies for The Horse Fair

Bonheur painted The Horse Fair from a series of sketches of Percherons, and other draft horses, which she had made at the Paris horse market [fr] on the tree-lined Boulevard de l'Hôpital, near the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital,[2] which is visible in the background to the painting. She attended the market twice weekly for a year and a half from summer of 1850 to the end of 1851. She sought a permission de travestissement [fr] from the Paris police to dress as a man, to avoid drawing attention to herself.[1] She had earlier studied at a Paris slaughterhouse in 1845, a typical activity for an animal painter that she was the first woman to engage in, and had experienced harassment as a visible woman.[3]

In addition to studies at the Paris horse market, she also modeled her animals on those from the Paris Omnibus Company.[3] She broke from tradition in depicting the horse eye as it is, rather than using anthropomorphism for emotional effect.[4] It has been suggested that one of the human figures is a self-portrait.

The reduced version in the National Gallery, London

Bonheur routinely wore masculine clothes at home and in the country. The Horse Fair is printed as Plate 18 in Greer's book The Obstacle Race, in which she writes: "There was nothing titillating about the full trousers and painters' smocks that Bonheur wore", and quotes the artist herself as saying:

"I am a painter. I have earned my living honestly. My private life is nobody's concern." [5]

Among the influences on Bonheur's work are the painters George Stubbs, Théodore Géricault, and Eugène Delacroix, and sculpture from Ancient Greece. She described the painting as her own Parthenon Frieze.