Rosa Bonheur created “Sheep by the Sea” following a trip through the Scottish Highlands in the summer of 1855. In painting this complacent flock of sheep settled in a meadow near a body of water, Bonheur captured a placid moment. “Sheep by the Sea” demonstrates the artist’s commitment to direct observation from nature. The thickly applied paint provides texture that conveys the lushness of a verdant landscape at water’s edge. The informality of this rustic scene belies the detailed physiognomic studies of animals that Bonheur frequently sketched before executing a work in oil paint.

Although the Empress Eugénie of France commissioned “Sheep by the Sea,” Bonheur exhibited the painting at the Salon of 1867 before it entered her collection. The empress (like her contemporary, Queen Victoria) also patronized the renowned British artist Sir Edwin Landseer, whose sentimental paintings of domestic animals became popular among the upper classes in England and France. Yet, unlike Landseer’s animals, which play out human dramas, Bonheur’s animals appear within their natural habitats, not subjected to human laws and emotions.


  • Title: Sheep by the Sea
  • Creator: Rosa Bonheur
  • Creator Lifespan: 1822/1899
  • Creator Gender: Female
  • Creator Death Place: Fontainebleau, France
  • Creator Birth Place: Bordeaux, France
  • Date: 1865/1865
  • selected exhibition history: Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1897
  • artist profile: Rosa Bonheur, a 19th-century woman who achieved a successful career, served as a role model for future generations of women artists. Born in Bordeaux, Bonheur moved to Paris with her family in 1829. She was trained by her father, a minor landscape painter. While unconventional in her ambitions and personal conduct, Bonheur was traditional in her working method. She studied her subjects carefully and produced many preparatory sketches before she applied paint to canvas. Bonheur’s reputation grew steadily in the 1840s, and she regularly exhibited her animal paintings and sculptures at the Paris Salon, which favored traditional work, from 1841 to 1853. In 1845, Bonheur won a third prize, and in 1848, a gold medal. Bonheur’s career was firmly established when she exhibited a painting at the 1849 Salon, “Plowing in Nivernais” (Musée Nationale du Château de Fontainebleau), which she had been commissioned to create by the government of the Second Republic. In 1853, she won international acclaim with her monumental painting “The Horse Fair” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), which was exhibited in England and which Queen Victoria greatly admired. In 1865, the French Empress Eugénie visited Bonheur at her studio in the forest of Fontainebleau to award her the cross of the Legion of Honor.
  • Style: Realism
  • Physical Dimensions: w18 x h12.75 in (Without frame)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photography by Lee Stalsworth
  • Medium: Oil on cradled panel

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