Paper about Art and Feminism, 1974, page 3

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          abandoning or rejecting our own previous
positions when we find that we're wrong.

I think that's another thing that I've, learned
from the feminist movement: not to stick to
a position because one’s ego is involved in
it but to let go of an old idea and see how a
new one works. In any case, I have been
looking into women artists of the past and
I find that in the process of examining them
my whole notion of what art is all about is
gradually changing.

For example, one of the artists in the past
that I had always been taught to look down
on as a horrid example of the salon machine
manufacturer par excellence was Rosa Bon-
heur, a laughing stock, the prototypical
academic painter. Now l've gotten very
interested in Rosa Bonheur. First of all it's
interesting to know that she was the most
popular painter in the United States. She
was probably the only painter who was
really known out in the Middle West or in
the Far West, by means of prints and repro-
ductions. She was practically the only
painter that a lot of people were acquainted
with and I still know older women who say
they grew up in Kansas or upper New York
State and the only art work they had was a
print of The Horse Fair that hung in the
kitchen. That was their contact with art-
Rosa Bonheur. And I asked myself why has
she been rejected? it's not because she's a
woman. I’m not naive enough to think that
that is the reason: it's because the style of
art that she made went out of fashion.

But being interested in realism and being
interested in a kind of justice for art-—
rejected styles need some support and some
help just as rejected people do!——l decided
to look into the work of Rosa Bonheur and I
came up with interesting results. The

results were so interesting that I decided to
look into other nineteenth century women
artists as well and have done-further work
on Rosa Bonheur. It is certainly significant
to Rosa Bonheur’s development as an artist
that her father had been an active member
of the utopian Saint—Simonian community at
Menilmontaut. The Saint—Simonians were
firm believers in equality for women. They
disapproved of marriage; they believed in
equal educational opportunity; they advo-
cated a similar trousered costume for both
sexes; and they made strenuous efforts to
find a woman messiah to share their leader's

reign. All of this must have made an enor-
mously strong impression on the young Rosa
Bonheur whose father was himself an

artist, although a struggling one, supporting
the point that art tends to run in families.
(Another interesting fact derived from
research on Rosa Bonheur was that the
Saint—Simonians were among the first to
believe in total mutual dependency. Their
garments all buttoned in the back which
meant that you had to get a fellow member
of the community to button you—a very
interesting symbolic idea.)

The notion of egalitarianism for women must
have made a profound impression on the
young Rosa Bonheur. “Why shouldn't I be
proud to be a woman?" she once responded
to an interviewer. “My father, that enthusi-
astic apostle of humanity, many times
reiterated to me that woman's mission was to
elevate the human race, that she was the
messiah of future centuries. It is to his doc-
trines that I owe the great and noble ambi-
tion which I have conceived for the sex
which I proudly affirm to be mine and whose
independence I will support to my dying
day." The Horse Fair is indeed a work of
noble ambition. There is nothing stereotypi-
cally feminine, i.e., soft, delicate or dainty,

in this powerful, highly charged work. Its
overpowering size itself constitutes a self-
confident answer to the challenge of the
young woman artist's abilities. The theme of
human strength pitted against animal energy
depicted in The Horse Fair had existed as
far back as classical antiquity: indeed Rosa
Bonheur claimed that she received her

initial inspiration for the painting when she
went, as she often did, to study horses from
life, wearing masculine costume, at the
Parisian horse market, where the sight of

the horse dealers showing off their merchan-
dise suddenly reminded her of the Parthenon
frieze. So there she was, dressed like a
man, full of vigor, watching the men show

off their wonderful Percheron horses. (And

I might add that The Horse Fair started a
vogue for Percherons which made the breed
popular throughout this country.)

She immediately went to work setting down
her initial impression. The final Horse Fair
is based on many studies from life and pre-
liminary sketches. But it is a work in which
the raw material of immediate observation
has been transformed in the interest of more

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