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HomeContentsOnline exhibitions > The Second Empire through the Lens of A.A.E. Disdéri

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André Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri 
Rosa Bonheur 
Carte de visite 
Paul Frecker 
The painter Rosa Bonheur was noted for her realistic animal portraits, such as Horse Fair (1853), now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her earliest training was received from her father, a minor landscape painter, who encouraged her interest in art and animals. He allowed her to keep a menagerie in their home, including a sheep that is reported to have lived on the balcony of their apartment in Paris. In 1865 she became the first female artist (and only the twelfth woman) to receive the Cross of the Légion d'Honneur.
These days her fame as an artist is somewhat overshadowed by her notoriety as a cross-dresser. Her short hair, her trousers, and cigarette smoking are now legendary. Although many of her contemporaries found the elements of masculine dress that she adopted troubling - or at least, endless fascinating - it is worth noting that her intention was not to look like a man, and even less to pass for one. Her short hair was bobbed, and not styled like a man's (she had originally cut it short as a sign of bereavement after her mother's death), and no matter what clothing she donned, she was always proud of her dainty feet and wore stylish bootees to show them off. The artist's smocks that she adopted were invariably delicately embroidered, and therefore very different from an ordinary worker's garment. Although at her home she greeted President Carnot, Queen Isabel of Spain, and Queen Victoria's daughter clad in trousers - she knew that they expected to see her this way - she presented a 'proper' female appearance in other circumstances, and always donned a formal dress for social occasions away from home. She did, however, receive special permission to leave off the prescribed décolltage for lunch with the Imperial couple. 
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