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The Ford, Auguste-Francois Bonheur (PA-158)

Bonheur, Auguste-Francois; The Ford; The Whitaker;

This image depicts a rural landscape in daylight. The central focus is a ford, populated by a group of cows and sheep. The painting also includes a young woman herding the animals.

Auguste-Francois Bonheur was born (1824) in Bordeaux into an artistic family. His father, Raymond Bonheur, was a painter and art teacher, as well as a social reformer and part of the Saint Simonist movement.

Auguste learned to paint from his father and later attended the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he studied under Paul Delaroche.

Bonheur left Paris in 1865 and moved to Magny-les-Heameaux, a rural part of France, where he exhibited regularly. He entered work into the Bordeaux Salon several times, winning a first-class medal for his 1861 submission.

Bonheur also enjoyed patronage in England and the Netherlands.

In England, his work was shown at the Royal Academy three times, and in the Netherlands, the art dealer Vincent Van Gogh (Van Gogh’s uncle) collected his work.

Bonheur’s sister Rosa was also a critically acclaimed painter and sculptor.

Bonheur initially painted portraits and genre paintings, but from 1852. He painted mostly animal subjects and rural scenes. His work was influenced by 17th Century Dutch landscape painters, such as Albert Cuyp and Paulus Potter. These painters frequently depicted cattle, which had become a symbol of wellbeing and prosperity due to the importance of dairy farming in Holland’s economy. Bonheur was praised by critics for the anatomical precision of the animals he painted. Critics also praised him for the luminosity he achieved in his landscapes.

The Ford is typical of Bonheur’s painting style and subjects. After studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Bonheur moved to the rural commune, Magny-les-Hameaux, where he took his surroundings as inspiration. Bonheur often painted cattle and the cows in this painting reflect his skill in rendering anatomy precisely. The sheen of the animals’ hides, and the dappled water of the ford reflect the artist’s interest in the effect of light on the natural landscape.

Although this depicts a scene beautifully painted, this image also brings up questions relevant to modern audiences around dairy farming and man’s dominance over animals. The World Wildlife Fund states that “today dairy cows and their manure produce greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change.”

At The Whitaker, we encourage our audiences to explore the past, meet the present and create the future.

Using our collections, we encourage visitors to reflect on contemporary issues and take action for positive change. From this piece of art, let’s consider the following questions:

What can we do to protect our planet?

Does our society need to change its attitude towards animals?

Let us know what you think…


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