Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
In a simple home in Paris could have been seen, in 1829, Raymond Bonheur and his little
family,--Rosa, seven years old, August, Isadore, and Juliette. He was a man of fine talent
in painting, but obliged to spend his time in giving drawing-lessons to support his
children. His wife, Sophie, gave lessons on the piano, going from house to house all day
long, and sometimes sewing half the night, to earn a little more for the necessities of life.
Hard work and poverty soon bore its usual fruit, and the tired young mother died in 1833.
The three oldest children were sent to board with a plain woman, "La mère Cathérine," in
the Champs Elysées, and the youngest was placed with relatives. For two years this good
woman cared for the children, sending them to school, though she was greatly troubled
because Rosa persisted in playing in the woods of the Bois de Boulogne, gathering her
arms full of daisies and marigolds, rather than to be shut up in a schoolroom. "I never
spent an hour of fine weather indoors during the whole of the two years," she has often
said since those days.
Finally the father married again and brought the children home. The two boys were
placed in school, and M. Bonheur paid their way by giving drawing lessons three times a
week in the institution. If Rosa did not love school, she must be taught something useful,
and she was accordingly placed in a sewing establishment to become a seamstress.
The child hated sewing, ran the needle into her fingers at every stitch, cried for the fresh
air and sunshine, and finally, becoming pale and sickly, was taken back to the Bonheur
home. The anxious painter would try his child once more in school; so he arranged that
she should attend, with compensation met in the same way as for his boys. Rosa soon
became a favorite with the girls in the Fauborg St. Antoine School, especially because
she could draw such witty caricatures of the teachers, which she pasted against the wall,
with bread chewed into the consistency of putty. The teachers were not pleased, but so
struck were they with the vigor and originality of the drawings, that they carefully
preserved the sketches in an album.
The girl was far from happy. Naturally sensitive--as what poet or painter was ever born
otherwise?--she could not bear to wear a calico dress and coarse shoes, and eat with an
iron spoon from a tin cup, when the other girls wore handsome dresses, and had silver
mugs and spoons. She grew melancholy, neglected her books, and finally became so ill
that she was obliged to be taken home.
And now Raymond Bonheur very wisely decided not to make plans for his child for a
time, but see what was her natural tendency. It was well that he made this decision in
time, before she had been spoiled by his well-meant but poor intentions.
Left to herself, she constantly hung about her father's studio, now drawing, now
modeling, copying whatever she saw him do. She seemed never to be tired, but sang at
her work all the day long.