Rosa Bonheur – An Old Monarch

Questions to arouse interest. Of what is this a picture? Where do you suppose he is? In what countries do lions live wild? How many have seen a lion at the park or circus? Why do they have such strong cages? On what are they fed? On what do lions live in their own country? How many of you have watched trained lions? Why does this lion look so gentle, do you suppose? Notice the size of his eyes and ears.

Original Picture : Private Collection, W. H. Vanderbilt, New York.

Artist: Rosa Bonheur (bô’nûr’)

Birthplace: Bordeaux, France.

Dates: Born, 1822; died, 1899.

The story of the picture. After Rosa Bon-heur had painted horses, cows, and other tame animals a great many times, she began to want to paint wild animals, such as tigers and bears. She could not go to the far-away countries where they live, so she bought a lion and lioness from a man who had been there. These she kept in a very strong cage of heavy iron bars. Here she came to watch them every day.

This is one of the pictures she painted of the lion. She called him “Nero,” and was so kind to him that after a while he became quite tame. The lioness was always wild, but good old Nero soon became so gentle that Rosa Bonheur could pet him and even go into his cage.

How wise he looks ! He seems to know the great artist is painting his picture. No doubt he could tell us wonderful stories of the country he came from. He could tell us of the big cave in the great rock where he lived, and of that pool of water where he drank. Then he could tell us of the tall, sweet-smelling grasses and rushes in the jungles where he could hide from his enemies and surprise them, and how he walked about the marshes on dark nights; for he can see at night as well as in the daytime.

One day Rosa Bonheur had to go away on a long journey. She did not know just what to do with the lions, but finally sent them to the park, where a man took good care of them. Nero did nothing but walk back and forth in his cage all day long while his mistress was away. He refused to eat anything the man gave him, and by the time Rosa Bonheur returned home the lion was very sick. As soon as he saw her he showed how pleased he was. She spent many days taking care of him, and finally Nero was well again. He never wanted any one else to come near him.

A few months later, Rosa Bonheur had to go away again. She was very much worried about leaving Nero, but finally she found a man with whom she was not afraid to trust him. As soon as she was gone, however, gentle old Nero became very cross and ugly. He growled at the keeper, and tried to hurt him.

One day the keeper had to go into the cage to fix something. With a fierce growl Nero sprang at him and tried to kill him. In the struggle the lion was badly hurt. When Rosa Bonheur came home she found Nero very sick and going blind. No one dared to go near his cage, but as soon as he heard her voice he was the old faithful Nero again. When Rosa went into his cage he put his great head in her lap and seemed happy to have her pet him. Every one was surprised- to see how much he loved her. Rosa Bonheur did everything for him she could, hoping her pet would get well again, but a few days later he died, his head in her lap.

Rosa missed her pet very much, and after that she never cared to own another lion. She gave the lioness to the city to keep in the park. She was very glad she had painted so many good pictures of Nero, for it made her feel as if she still had her pet with her.

Questions to help the pupil understand the picture. Whose lion was this? How did she get him? Why did she want a lion? How many did she have? How did the lioness behave? What was this lion’s name? How tame was he? Whom did he like best? What happened when Rosa Bonheur went away on a journey? Who took care of the lions? What did Nero do? How did he act when Rosa Bonheur came back? What did she do? What happened the second time she went away? upon her return? Why did Rosa Bonheur not care to have another lion? Why was she glad she had painted this picture?

To the Teacher: The children may draw a picture of a lion. Use manila paper and char-coal. Call attention to the large, bushy head, cat-like body, and long, waving tail.

The story of the artist. Rosa Bonheur’s father was an artist, and when any one asked her who taught her to draw, she always said, “My father taught me.” Her mother could play the piano very well indeed, but Rosa did not care so much for that study. When Rosa was sent to school she had to walk some distance through the woods to the schoolhouse. Sometimes she would stop and smooth the dust in the road with her hand, and then draw pictures in it. She used a stick to draw with. Even then she liked to draw pictures of animals best of all. Often she had such good times drawing that she even forgot to go to school.

Her father thought he could make a better living in Paris, so the family moved to that great city. The first place they lived was up several flights of stairs and across the street from a butcher’s shop. This shop had for a sign a wild boar rudely carved out of wood. Rosa missed her old pets so much, and this wild boar looked so much like her little pet pig in the country, that she used to stop to pat the wooden boar every time she passed that way.

A man who lived in the same house with the Bonheur family kept a small school for boys. Rosa’s two brothers went to this school, and after a while the teacher said Rosa might go too. She was the only girl in the school, but she did not mind that at all. The boys were glad to have her with them, for she knew more games than they and played just like one of them.

Her father did not do so well with his painting as he had hoped, so they moved into a cheaper house. It was here that Rosa’s mother died. The little sister, Juliette, was then sent to her grandmother, and Rosa went to live with an aunt. The aunt sent her to school, and it was at this time that she used to stop on the way to the schoolhouse to draw pictures in the dust on the road. So she did not get along very well with her aunt and the teacher and was delighted when her father told her she might come home.

All the children loved animals, and there are a great many stories told about those that were kept in their house. Rosa’s brother Isidore had a little lamb which he would carry down six flights of stairs every morning, so that it might nibble the green grass and be out in the fresh air. It became a great pet, and all the children drew its picture in ever so many different positions. Besides the lamb, they had a parrot, a monkey, two dogs, rabbits, and birds. Their father let the children keep these pets in a room fitted up especially for them.

Rosa’s father was teaching in a private school at this time, and was away from home all day; but when he came home at night Rosa would show him what she had been doing while he was gone. Once she had been painting cherries, and her father came in while she was working on them. He praised her very much, and helped her finish the painting.

In the evening Rosa and her two brothers and her father used to put their easels in different parts of the big room and draw and paint until it was quite late. They would all much rather do this than anything else in the world, and it was the only time their father had in which to help them.

The father belonged to a religious order called the ” Saint Simonians.” The members wore queer gowns and bonnets with long tassels. Rosa wore such a bonnet with a big tassel, and sometimes the boys would shout and laugh at her, but she paid no attention to that.

Later the father got a position in another private school, earning enough to send his three children there as pupils and to give them everything they needed at home.

Rosa did not behave very well in school. She liked to. cut queer figures out of paper, figures that looked like some of the teachers or pupils. Then she would fasten them to a string, put some moist bread on the other end, and throw it up to the ceiling of the schoolroom. The bread would stick to the ceiling and there those dreadful figures must dangle until some one came with a ladder and took them down. She was punished very often, and sometimes to make her behave she was given nothing to eat but bread and water.

Although she did such things every one liked her, for she was good-hearted and kind and full of fun. But finally she did something that could not be overlooked. This is what she did. The lady who kept the school was very fond of flowers, and above all she loved the stately hollyhock. She had a beautiful bed of hollyhocks in the front yard of the school that was very much admired by all who passed.

One day when Rosa had been reading in her school history about a war, she thought it would be fine fun to arrange a great battle in the yard between the girls. They used wooden sticks for swords. Very soon Rosa’s side drove their enemies toward the hollyhock bed, where they turned and fled. Seeing the hollyhocks standing guard like soldiers, Rosa thought it would be fun to charge upon them, which she did, cutting off all their heads. Is it any wonder she was sent home in disgrace?

Her father then sent her to a dressmaker to see if she could learn that trade, but Rosa did not like dressmaking, and finally went home without having learned very much. Then some friends gave her some photographs to color, and this she liked to do.

Next Rosa was asked to teach drawing to a girl who was some years younger than her-self. This girl lived in a beautiful home which had a large gallery full of fine pictures. The floor of this gallery was waxed, and after Rosa had looked at the pictures the two amused themselves by sliding on the waxed floor until it was time for Rosa to go home. So her father had to give up all idea of making her a teacher. He knew that the only thing to do was to let her paint, for that she loved to do and could do well.

Rosa was willing to walk miles in all kinds of weather, to sit hours in all kinds of uncomfortable positions, and to go without food, in order to draw a good picture of some animal. Now she began her study of animals in earnest. She went to all the country horse fairs, to the slaughter houses, and everywhere she could to study them.

Rosa never had very pretty clothes. She tells us herself that one day a parrot called after her, “Ha, ha ! That hat ! ” Now that she was grown up she found she could not get about very easily in her long skirts. There were so many rough men in the packing houses and other places she must go to study that she got a permit to wear men’s clothing. Her hair was short anyway, and so with her blue working blouse and dark, trousers she looked just like a man. Then no one noticed her as she went about, for they thought her only one of the workmen.

Her pictures became famous the world over. The first she exhibited was one of some little rabbits nibbling carrots. From all over the country she received gifts of fine horses and other animals for her to paint. Buffalo Bill once sent her two fine horses from Texas. She bought a farm, and had a large barn built where she could keep her animals. How proud her father was of her !

One day as she was working hard in her studio a servant came to tell her that the Empress Eugénie had come to see her. It was a great event when this royal lady came to the artist’s studio, and there was Rosa dressed in her old blue blouse covered with paint ! She did not have time to slip it off, even, before the empress came in. They had a most delightful visit, however, and as the Empress Eugénie bent over and kissed Rosa Bonheur, she pinned the Cross of the Legion of Honor on the artist’s blue blouse. Rosa did not notice it until after the empress was gone. How pleased she must have been, for she was the first woman to receive that high honor.

Questions about the artist. Who painted this picture? In what country did she live? Who taught her to paint? What did her father do for a living? What could her mother do? Why was Rosa sometimes late to school? Where did they move? What kind of a house did they live in? Tell about the wild boar; the school for boys. Why did they move again? What happened here? Where were the children sent? Why did Rosa want to come back? Tell about Isidore and the lamb. What other pets did the children have? Where did they keep them? What did Rosa do while her father was away? What did they all like to do in the evening? Tell about the Saint Simon cap Rosa sometimes wore. How did she behave in school? What did she do that made them send her away? What trade did her father want her to learn? How did she succeed at this? What did she like to do? What kind of a teacher was Rosa? Where did she go to study animals? When she was older, why did she wear men’s clothes? What were some of the presents she received? Tell about the visit of Empress Eugénie. What did the empress give Rosa? Why was this such a great honor?