French artist Marie-Rosa Bonheur or simply Rosa Bonheur (1822-99) was a renowned ‘Realist’ painter and sculptor of the nineteenth century. She had an exceptional talent for portraying animals with amazing accuracy. Bonheur had mastered the skill of capturing their intimate expressions and true anatomy by studying their physiology. One of her most celebrated works that won her huge accolades was “Ploughing in the Nivernais (French: Le labourage Nivernais, le sombrage).” Rosa painted it for a commission by the French government, for a payment of 3000 francs.
Bonheur’s most famous painting, “Ploughing in the Nivernais” is an oil on canvas, measuring 102.2″ x 52.7″. The painter decided to go to Chateau De La Cave in Nievre to seek inspiration for her work from the vast fields and pastoral landscapes of the glorious countryside. The serene painting depicts a simple scene of peasants ploughing the fields with the help of their livestock, in preparation for fresh crop of the season. In Le labourage Nivernais, le sombrage, four peasants can be seen driving the two herds of oxen, across the field. Both herds have six oxen, each yoked up in pairs one behind the other, dragging heavy ploughs. Their beautiful russet, white, and brown coats glimmer under the sunlight. The strong muscular bodies of the oxen exude immense strength. The farmers are shown dressed in work clothes and two of them are carrying sticks to guide the majestic creatures. In comparison to the animals, the farmers seem small and their faces and expressions are barely visible. It seems as if Rosa purposefully kept the animals as the focal point of her painting.
Rosa’s remarkable talent is displayed in portraying the animals as tired, yet commanding in expressions. The serene landscape of “Ploughing in the Nivernais” has Infinite clear blue skies stretching from one side of the painting to the other. On the left side, we can see short brown hills with several dark green trees that enhance the countryside charm of the picture. The freshly furrowed earth is depicted in the shades of brown. The bright light and realistic color palette brings the painting alive in such a way that it can be easily mistaken as a real photograph. “Ploughing in the Nivernais” is a tribute to agricultural labor that presents a beautiful example of man and animal working in harmony with nature. This very realistic illustration earned Rosa Bonheur a reputation of being an expert animal painter.
“Ploughing in the Nivernais (Le labourage Nivernais, le sombrage)” was displayed in the Salon of 1849 and it brought Rosa great critical acclaim. An exemplary of Rosa Bonheur’s powerful artistry, “Ploughing in the Nivernais” is currently housed at the Musee d Orsay, Paris.