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Video transcript

we're in the Musee d'Orsay and we're looking at rosa boners light-filled painting called plowing never neigh that refers to both a region and the kind of oxen that are the stars of this canvas they are the human figure that pushes them along is heartily important so Rosa Bonheur did some extraordinary things she was an incredibly precocious girl I think it was at age 14 she was actually sketching in the Louvre and actually creating oil paintings this was possible because her father was an artist and had really encouraged her I think they were very liberal otherwise she would not have had her enormous artistic talent encouraged she might not have ended up a painter at all so this was made in 18-49 which is just one year after the Revolution and so interesting that an artist now is moving out into the countryside away from all of the chaos of the city where the revolution had I mean we have this incredible image of these oxen turning the soil in the fall to prepared for the following year's season and look at the soil itself you almost get a sense that here is the strength of France the earth looks incredibly rich and fertile so there is a sense of a kind of nationalistic idea of the French countryside and that France will survive and indeed thrive and those oxen are so powerful and so beautiful and in a sense so eternal you know this is a ritual that has gone on long before the politics of the modern world and will continue long after they come forward in a receding diagonal that moves into our space so we have this sense of depth and atmospheric perspective and sense of weather and the warmth of the sunlight it's really you know is so particularly and carefully observed and it reminds me of so much that we see in the 1840s and then into the 1850s of this interest in rural life of laborers of the virtues of the countryside now when I look at this the oxen those backs are so beautifully aligned they almost create their own horizon like the pihl's beside them and so in a sense they are the earth itself there is the sense of permanence I think throughout the 1840s especially with the kind of industrialization and the growth of the cities it's taking place there is this real desire to return to this much more basic truth which resides in nature and the countryside and in labor itself but a kind of simple very direct kind of labor so do you think Rosa Bonheur is giving us a conservative vision at this moment just after a very radical revolution of 1848 that brings the working class into power in a significant way I think that there are conservative aspects here but it's more complicated than that she's breaking too many boundaries she is emphasizing the importance of landscape of animal painting itself on a scale that is often reserved for history painting she is a woman not painting and interiors not painting as an amateur but is painting at the level of the highest professional these were radical ideas and I don't think we can see this as conservative painting and really remarkable accomplishments