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This is a painting of sheer animal power. Brilliant white light builds up the turbulence and excitement of the scene. Rosa Bonheur has made the convulsion of the muscles and the flying manes almost tangible, capturing the rearing, plunging animals and the strength and dexterity of their handlers with almost photographic reality. The magnificent white horses in the picture are Percherons, bred for hauling weights. Bonheur has captured their spirit and their world, with its noises, smells and sense of danger, and made them into high art. The original version of The Horse Fair was four times the size of the National Gallery picture, painted when the work of women artists was largely disregarded by critics. It caused a sensation at the 1853 Paris Salon, toured Britain and the US and brought Bonheur international fame.
The Horse Fair
Oil on canvas
H 120 x W 254.6 cm
Bequeathed by Jacob Bell, 1859