Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822–1899)
Oil on canvas
96 1/4 x 199 1/2 in. (244.5 x 506.7 cm)
Signed and dated (lower right): Rosa Bonheur 1853.5
Gift of Cornelius Vanderbilt, 1887 (87.25)
When Rosa Bonheur exhibited The Horse Fair at the Salon of 1853, her reputation as an artist had been fairly well established by the paintings, drawings, and sculpture she had shown at the annual Salons since 1841, but few of her works attained the dash and grandeur of The Horse Fair, and none received the same acclaim. Vastly admired on the Continent, where it was exhibited in Paris, Ghent, and Bordeaux, the painting was subsequently shown in England and the United States. It has become one of the Metropolitan Museum's best known works of art.
Bonheur began work on The Horse Fair in 1852. For a year and a half, she made sketches twice a week at the horse market in Paris, on the boulevard de l'Hôpital, dressing as a man in order to attract less attention from the horse dealers and buyers. The picture shows with accuracy the trees lining the boulevard and the cupola of the Hôpital de la Salpêtrière nearby.