This is the largest version in watercolor of The Horse Fair, Rosa Bonheur's most famous composition. Bonheur made many preliminary sketches and studies for her large painting exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1853 (see lots 115 and 116) and now in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The present watercolor is one of several works in which she returned to the earlier subject.
Dore Ashton writes that in 1851 Rosa Bonheur "began to visit the horse market at Boulevard de l'Hôpital near the Asylum of la Salpêtriè...Watching the handlers jogging horses at the market, she thought of the frieze on the Parthenon...The Horse Fair demonstrated her ability to record the movements of animals in a way she had never managed before" (Ashton, p. 82). The influence of Delacroix and Géricault was crucial in the Salon painting, and Delacroix himself expressed his admiration for the work in his journal. After receiving great acclaim at the Salon, the painting went on to be exhibited at Ghent, also in 1853, and at Bordeaux the following year. After having been bought by the London dealer Ernest Gambart, The Horse Fair was shown in several cities in England, and it was brough to Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria's inspection. Once in the United States, "its fame increased steadily and it became once of the country's best known paintings. It was reproduced in lithographs and engravings, and even many lithographs were made of the preparatory drawings" (Sterling and Salinger, p. 162).
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