Visiting the Artist's Studio - by Heather McPherson

Author of Picturing the Artist’s Studio, from Delacroix to Picasso Heather McPherson discusses the fascination with artists' studios that provided the background to her book and unveils the secrets of two studios - that of Eugène Delacroix and that of Rosa Bonheur: 

My book, Picturing the Artist’s Studio, from Delacroix to Picasso (2024), evolved from my fascination with the studio as a creative laboratory for making art and an extension of the artist’s persona. The development of studio visits in 19th-century France reflected the public’s growing interest in artists and their milieu. The studio retains its allure, evidenced by the contemporary ritual of studio visits and the growing popularity of studio museums.

Eugène Delacroix

Eugène Delacroix’s last studio at 6 rue de Furstenberg, where he worked from 1857 to 1863, while completing the Saint-Sulpice murals, is one of my favorite studio visits. Delacroix designed the elegantly proportioned working space and the hidden garden below, creating a charming oasis in central Paris.


Image: Delacroix’s Studio, Paris. Photo by the author.

In the early 20th century, Delacroix’s studio narrowly escaped demolition to build a parking lot. A dedicated group of admirers, spearheaded by Maurice Denis, formed the Société des Amis d’Eugène Delacroix to preserve his studio for posterity. In 1932, the Delacroix Museum opened its doors to the public. Today Delacroix’s studio and the adjoining apartment display paintings and graphic works from the museum’s holdings and his personal collection, including Moroccan artifacts used in his Orientalist paintings, and host special exhibitions. Standing in Delacroix’s studio, surrounded by his art, you can breathe the air he breathed and picture him painting at his easel. One of Delacroix’s meticulously composed palettes, which the poet Baudelaire likened to a “bouquet of skilfully arranged flowers,” is also on view. Delacroix’s palette offers insight into how he selected and prepared his colors and his systematic approach to color and tone.

Rosa Bonheur

Image: Château de By, Thomery. Photo by the author.

Visiting Rosa Bonheur’s studio in Thomery immerses the visitor in her life and art. Bonheur’s epic Horse Fair, exhibited at the 1853 Salon, made her an international celebrity. In 1859 at the height of her success, she purchased the bucolic Château de By, near Fontainebleau, where she lived and worked for the next four decades. She kept a changing menagerie of wild and domestic animals on the grounds and could access the forest directly from her garden.

Image: Rosa Bonheur’s Studio, Château de By, Thomery. Photo by the author.

Bonheur hired the architect Louis-Jules Saulnier to build an elegant addition, with a spacious, light-filled studio on the second floor, which could accommodate large-scale canvases. She called this “grand studio” her sanctuary. She requested oversized north- and south-facing windows to provide as much natural light as possible for painting. Bonheur received family, friends, and visitors in the By studio, from collectors and dealers to Buffalo Bill Cody and the Empress Eugénie, who made a surprise visit in 1864, and awarded Bonheur the Legion of Honor in 1865. At the end of her life, Bonheur posed for several portraits in her studio, including the one commissioned from Anna Klumpke in 1898.

Bonheur’s studio is conserved almost exactly the way it looked during her lifetime, as if she had momentarily stepped out. With its original furnishings, taxidermied animals, easels, portfolios, and paintings, it is a time capsule and a moving memorial to her lifelong dedication to art. When Bonheur died in 1899, she left everything including the Château de By and all her paintings to Klumpke, her end-of-life companion and universal legatee, who lovingly preserved Bonheur’s studio and archives and published a comprehensive biography and catalogue raisonné in 1908. Following her death, Bonheur faded from public memory and the château gradually fell into disrepair. In September 2017, Katherine Brault purchased the property from descendants of Klumpke and restored the studio to its former glory. The Rosa Bonheur Museum reopened in 2018, embellished with a delightful tearoom. For those wishing to prolong their visit, there are a few restored guest rooms.  

These are just two of the studios discussed in my book which give the modern art lover the opportunity to experience the artist’s studio as concrete working space and laboratory of the imagination.  


Heather McPherson's book Picturing the Artist's Studio, from Delacroix to Picasso will be published on 1 May 2024. Order your copy now