Photo credit: Museums Sheffield
This small painting was once attributed to Rosa Bonheur (1822–1899), which was changed following research by NIRP. It bears an illegible inscription and the date 1854 – an enlarged detail might help to read it. Can anyone identify the French artist?
Museums Sheffield has provided a detail of the very faint inscription, which can be seen just above the sitter's shoulder. It is attached below.
What would also be useful from Sheffield is a view of the back of the painting, if that can be obtained. I can't quite make out the inscription on the front, nor the date, so maybe also another detail in a higher resolution photo would help (unless it's just my eyes).
A quick Google suggests that the portrait may be OF Rosa Bonheur painted by Edouard Louis Dubufe in 1857. The head looks younger in the ELD painting but the necklace is very similar. I am surprised this has not been picked up by others.
Not a necklace! A lace collar and brooch. Perfectly consistent with date of 1840s and 1850s.
This does not look like the same woman as in Edouard Dubufe's well known portrait of Rosa Bonheur with a bull [accessible on wikipedia] nor is the style much like that of Dubufe, who was an accomplished painter and capable of making a better fist at painting a hand.
The NICE entry describes the inscription (of which they say only the 1854 date is legible) as lower left (rather than centre left), and I don't think it's above the shoulder - what appears to be there in the full image disappears completely in the close-up. However, with a lot of tweaking I can make out what may be it just above the point where the sitter's arm meets the painting's LH edge. See attached.
I agree with Martin that she looks nothing whatever like Bonheur - Dubufe's portrait was probably pretty flattering, but unlike this one it is believably the same person. See attached comparison of Bonheur's face in 1857 portrait & c1863 photo, together with that of ours. I also agree that - even allowing for it being very small and sketchy - it is highly unlikely to be the work of such a proficient artist as Dubufe.
Without the Bonheur attribution, does the "French School' tag also fall away, meaning that the work could be British, of a British subject? Does the work's accession history speak to this?
The portraits of Bonheur lined up are useful. The lady in question parts her hair differently and has a weak chin, thus does not look at all like her. Interesting that the lace collar is similar. The pose is that of a self portrait. Incompetent painting anyway! It is either someone incompetently faking a Bonheur, or an unknown amateur lady artist painting a self-portrait. I think!
May I suggest that the enlargement, and unattached look, of the lady's right hand indicates a self-portrait using a convex mirror? The brown shape further up the right hand arm is unreadable - perhaps a puffed sleeve? Lace collar is not exactly the same as in the R. Bonheur pics, (well compared by Bullock) and oddly it does not appear to lie close to the flesh, as such removable/washable collars are designed to do. Bonheur adopted a rather masculine life-style and tended to eschew feminine ornament. Agreed, not a likeness of R. Bonheur and not from the hand of a talented artist. Maybe history of owner's/donor's family might reveal more?
I still think we need an image of the back of the painting to see if any labels, etc. can give an idea of the history of this picture.
We have contacted the collection about this and will relay any information we receive.
Please see an image of the back of the painting (mostly under tape) and also a close up of the signature - unfortunately this is just under the edge of the frame, but the date certainly seems to be 1854.
Ah, *that's* where the signature is - thank you, Sheffield. An object lesson in how one - or I - should stop trying to read what usually turn out to be non-existent inscriptions on low-res images. I've slightly tweaked the new close-up inscription image (see attached) - I agree that it's 1854, and like others can't make out what's before it. But assuming it's a signature, it certainly doesn't seem to be 'Bonheur' - the last two letters look like 'et'. Possibly Pousset or Dousset, something like that - but -et is a common French name-ending.
On the rear label the 'Self' has clearly been added to 'Portrait of Rosa Bonheur' later, very possibly by a different hand. Since it does have the feel of a self-portrait, the whole Rosa Bonheur idea falls to pieces (as it does anyway from the sitter's appearance). Which leaves us pretty much back where we and the collection started, and with their current description likely to be the right one