Rosa Bonheur always lived and worked in contact with nature, her main source of inspiration. If she considered herself a painter of figures - mainly animals - she also practiced landscape painting, not as an end in itself but with the aim of studying and "faithfully representing nature". She studied it during her travels, notably in the Auvergne, the Cantal and the Pyrenees, in the 1840s and 1850s, and then from the time she moved to By, during daily excursions to the nearby forest, where she knew all the sites.
The Mare aux Fées [The fairy pond] is a particularly picturesque site. Located on the Etroitures path, this stretch of water that never dried up, surrounded by birch trees, inspired many painters, drawers and photographers. Its name, which evokes fantastic myths and legends, is all the more meaningful in an era marked by industrialization and the development of cities. It was said to come from a legend according to which fairies would have scratched the walls of the surrounding rocks. One also thinks of the famous novel, La Mare au Diable by George Sand, whose so-called country novels, inspired by rural and forest life, have often been compared to Rosa Bonheur's paintings.
La Mare aux fées presents the great originality of featuring a part in color and a part in black and white, like an echo to the photographic technique. Rosa Bonheur did some watercolors on photographs of the forest of Fontainebleau, probably as an experiment and not for sale, applying the color on the black and white photograph used as a frame.
The only watercolor in the Orsay collections was a landscape drawing by the artist, a close-up of an oak tree trunk, which she and Anna Klumpke chose as a gift to the Musée du Luxembourg, and which is among the most representative of the artist's work. It is very complementary to this drawing which gives a broad view of the landscape.
This large watercolor sheds light on this little known angle of Rosa Bonheur's work, adept at large animal paintings but also at light, delicate, vibrant watercolors in an attempt to capture the magical atmosphere of the forest.
In 2022, the Musée d'Orsay, in partnership with the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, held the first retrospective of the artist in Paris in a century.