“Rehabilitating the memory of Rosa Bonheur”. Interview with the owner of the castle of the animal painter in Thomery

Two hundred years after the birth of Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), Katherine Brault, owner of the Château de Rosa Bonheur in Thomery (Seine-et-Marne), where the animal painter lived and worked, changed the memory of this avant-garde woman by opening the château to the public and by organizing events, including exhibitions on its archives and photography, but also in collaboration with the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux and Musée d’Orsay in Paris. On this occasion, ” Knowledge of Art talked to Katherine Brault.


In what situation did you meet Rosa Bonheur?

It was in 2014, the desire to start again with a new concept after a difficult time. The idea of ​​developing a cultural tourism project in Fontainebleau, where I spent my childhood, was quickly picked up. But everything I visited didn’t match what I was looking for, until the day the Château de Rosa Bonheur offered me. I already know this place because I was there when I was young. I remember a dark house that I dreaded. I flatly refused to return. But the next day, I changed my mind. Curiosity or presentation?

Édouard-Louis Dubufe and Rosa Bonheur, Portrait of Rosa Bonheur, 1857, oil on canvas © RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Versailles) / photo Gérard Blot.

What happened when you came back there?

When I opened the gate on a cold and rainy January day, the house looked abandoned. I went into the kitchen. The 19th century contacted the 20th with a microwave and the electric coffee maker. Things overlap without erasing the past. As I progressed home, I was more filled with a sense of stillness. The shock took place in the large studio when the gaze of Rosa met, this large picture painted by Anna Klumpke, her last companion. I felt him laughing at me. “ Here you are back! It was all there as if he was about to enter the room. It’s very move-on.

Who owned the castle then? Are the workshop and the museum open to the public?

The set is owned by Rosa Bonheur’s heirs, the descendants of Anna Klumpke. They have always occupied it. It has become a family home that, since the actor’s death, has been sometimes open, sometimes closed to the public. In 1986, they entrusted the keys to the town hall which organized visits before deciding, after thirty years, to sell the castle.

During this time, many objects and archives came and went, borrowed. Since getting it, we regularly have fun surprises to see them back at the castle!

Rosa Bonheur, Rabbits, 1840, oil on canvas © Museum of Fine Arts of Bordeaux, photo F.Deval.

Rosa Bonheur, Rabbits, 1840, oil on canvas © Museum of Fine Arts of Bordeaux, photo F.Deval.

What barriers do you need to overcome?

For bankers, even mine business plan touched the road, forgot Rosa Bonheur. He could not arouse the public interest. In addition, systematically, I was asked who my partner was, if I was married. Lending to a woman today can still raise poverty like it did in Rosa’s time! But another threat is to almost eliminate all traces of the actor’s presence. The town hall has another project, supporting Chinese investors. I met them, assisted by a translator who fortunately revealed to me that they wanted to sell all the content! I was gripped by a sense of urgency and hurried to rush. Moreover, a woman, a banker, agreed to my request for a loan.

What support did you receive?

They are many and important: my children, great meetings, and our first patrons, the Heritage Foundation, Stéphane Bern with the heritage lotto, the French Heritage Society, enthusiasts, an association, the department, the president of the Republic to move. But the Île-de-France region was the first to support me in 2018.

Rosa Bonheur Castle, 12 rue Rosa Bonheur, 77810 By-Thomery

Rosa Bonheur Castle, 12 rue Rosa Bonheur, 77810 By-Thomery

To move, it is necessary to make choices, work. For what project?

I wanted to rehabilitate Rosa Bonheur’s memory but I had to find an economic equation because the museum alone would not allow the adventure to continue. I thought of a tea room, a shop, guest rooms, room rentals.

Over the days, there have been incredible discoveries.

They are many and every day, new discoveries excite us: a watercolor, documents … In the attic, we see the lion. fatmaa mysterious ball wrapped in paper, as well as this large canvas roll, of a very beautiful hemp, the first version of the famous horse marketmade in 1851, eight years before the artist came to By.

Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Market, 1855, oil on canvas © The National Gallery, London.

Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Market, 1855, oil on canvas © The National Gallery, London.

We had to fix it all. A good meeting again?

Michel Pons, who has been working on the history of the village for more than twenty years, is preparing a conference about Eugène Cuvelier, a photographer friend of Rosa Bonheur. I offered to look at the archive of the castle, he accepted and never came out yet! Thanks to her titanic work, Rosa Bonheur’s character reveals new facets and more than 50,000 documents have been discovered and referenced.

This confirms your desire to develop a scientific project.

I bought the castle in September 2017. Between October 2018 and the first incarceration, we received over thirty thousand visitors. We have taken a new step in expanding the museum and the creation of conservation and consultation rooms. And we are fortunate to be accompanied by specialists from all disciplines who have practiced here. Astrid de La Forest, president of the Academy of Fine Arts for 2022, leads the terms of our scientific committee.

Anna Klumpke, Portrait of Rosa Bonheur, 1898, oil on canvas, 117.2 x 98.1 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Anna Klumpke, Portrait of Rosa Bonheur, 1898, oil on canvas, 117.2 x 98.1 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

And there was an awareness of the importance of the park.

When I arrived, I hurriedly planted three hundred Pierre de Ronsard rosebushes to bring poetry back to this place that Rosa Bonheur loved so much. But a kilometer of endangered wall and a three-hectare forest require immediate intervention to allow the public to access it without risk. Our garden fairy intervened with her wand and suggested a unique project awaiting subsidies and sponsorships. It will still take time and money to complete this major project, but the park will be reborn.

So was born another crazy bet?

In Covid and in successive incarceration, we had to recover. However, what better place than this house and its park to create a celebration dedicated to the creation of woman? Rosa Bonheur supported female artists, including Caroline Miolan Carvalho, Virginie Demont-Breton, Nadia Boulanger … The Klumpke sisters are exceptional artists: musicians, painters, composers … Our ambition is not just to allow public to discover these great. figures of women, but also to experience the art that is different here.

Rosa Bonheur, Labourage nivernais, also known as Le sombridge, 1849, oil on canvas, 133 x 260 cm, Paris, Musée d'Orsay Photo © Musée d'Orsay, Dist.  RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

Rosa Bonheur, Labourage nivernais, also known as Le sombridge, 1849, oil on canvas, 133 x 260 cm, Paris, Musée d’Orsay Photo © Musée d’Orsay, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Patrice Schmidt

2022 is the year of Rosa Bonheur’s bicentenary. Your contribution to the rebirth of the artist is important.

I didn’t stop alerting, to show the extent to which Rosa Bonheur, who has long been described as a rear guard, looks, who, today, is very topical with animals, nature and feminism. On the occasion of the artist’s bicentenary, the retrospective was presented at the Musée des Beaux -Arts in Bordeaux then at the Musée d’Orsay – where the Château de Rosa Bonheur is one of the important lenders – as well as the exhibition at the Château de Fontainebleau contributes in a unique way to a new approach to his art. It also displays, inside the painter’s castle, two consecutive exhibitions of unpublished works designed from archives located in the attic of the castle.

“Rosa Happiness (1822-1899)”
Museum of Fine Arts, 20 cr d’Albret, 33000 Bordeaux
www.musba-bordeaux.fr
From May 18 to September 18, 2022

“Rosa Happiness (1822-1899)”
Orsay Museum, 1 rue de la Legion d’Honneur, 75007 Paris
www.musee-orsay.fr
From October 18, 2022 to January 15, 2023


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