Liverpool artwork of the day – Wednesday August 15 2007. ‘The return from the mill’ Rosa Bonheur (1822 – 1899) at Sudley House
This is in the Morning Room at Sudley house, one of my favourite rooms. Emma Holt used this as her office after her father died in 1896. From here she helped to run Liverpool University, an area of the District Nursing Association, and many other health charities.
In those days there was no National Health Service. There was much poverty in Liverpool, and Emma had been brought up to believe that it was the family’s responsibility to use its wealth for the good of the community. That idea is not so popular now is it.
This French artist was a specialist in animals. The texture in the coats of the horse and donkey show that her style was rooted in direct observation of nature. She kept a small menagerie, visited slaughterhouses and dissected animals to gain anatomical knowledge. Her work was especially popular with English collectors.
At a time when it was exceptional for women to have independent careers, Bonheur was a feminist ahead of her time. She had short hair, smoked and wore masculine clothing.