I have painted five “cow portraits” in all, recently. Here they are. I have enjoyed getting to know them as individuals, their long history in art and human society, and especially painting them. I have learnt a lot about their anatomy, especially their curious two-toed feet, or rather “paired hooves”. I have also discovered that cows have “dew claws” (digits that most animals have, including cats and dogs).
I am ready to switch back to landscape/woodland paintings now, after a long break from the trees.
I am delighted to have sold “Koei 1509”, a painting of a South African cow, to a collector in Oxfordshire, England. The painting was based on a photograph by talented photographer Herman von Bon, who generously allowed me to use his image. Herman photographs the South African landscape along with its people and animals. I particular like his wildlife photography.
I like cows. I love all animals. I come from a family of animal lovers. I get pleasure from just looking at animals. I really enjoy painting them but I find it hard to part with my animal paintings.
Cows are the reason why I stopped eating meat a long time ago. When I was a post-graduate student at Cardiff University in the 1990s I spent a day cycling along the the flat marsh road that lies between Cardiff and Newport. It’s about 10 miles. On my way back, I stopped at a gate for a rest. I group of curious youngsters, Fresians, came up to gate to investigate me. They were cautious but seemed to egg each other on to come closer and stick out their noses to me. They amused me. I thought they were funny and sweet.
I stood for quite a while looking at them. Listening to them breathe. Cows have intelligent eyes. Big brown eyes. They weren’t essentially any different from the many animals my family had kept as pets over the years; cats, dogs and rabbits. Suddenly the thought came to me “I eat you and your friends”. I felt awful. Very guilty.
It felt very unnecessary. I don’t need to eat meat. So I decided to stop. I’d been thinking about for for some time. People sometimes ask why I am a vegetarian and I could mention things such as the cruelty of factory farming, the environmental cost but I have never felt comfortable eating sentient creatures. I always felt a hypocrite for eating Sunday roast, no matter how tasty it was.
Many of my university friends were veggies but I didn’t like many vegetables (potatoes and peas was about it for many years) and I wasn’t sure what I would eat. To be honest, I was lazy. I had to learn to cook vegetarian meals. I started with a lot of pesto and pasta. A friend of mine recommended a Rose Elliot cook book and I painstakingly read the recipes (there were no photos in the book) and I eventually learnt a few recipes off by heart. It was a bit of a slog but I felt much better for it, physically and mentally.
Although I don’t think that I paint cows all that often, they have added up over the years. I love Hereford cattle in particular. I was born in that English county and I love the russet red of their coats. You don’t see that many of them on Gower.
I seems to have painted Frisians the most – probably because I like the contrast of their black and white coats.
I never paint “generic” cows. These are all real cows. All individuals. I found Gower Cow on the slopes of Cefn Bryn at the Penmaen end. She was chewing the cud with a small group of friends.
The cow at Pwll Du was also with a group of friends, small herd I suppose, who came out of the undergrowth and started grazing on the grass by the stream at Pwll Du.
Writing this post got me thinking about the History of the cow in Art. There’s a lot to it so I have decided to save that for my next post.
Although I love painting landscapes, whether streetscapes or woodlands, I also like to paint animals. It doesn’t matter what I paint a street or a donkey – I response to colour and light in a subject. Yet, whenever I paint a dog or sparrow I have this sneaking suspicion that serious artists don’t do this. That somehow paintings of animals are frivolous. That by painting a donkey on the beach I am ruining my credibility. So I have put together this photo-essay to challenge the thought that paintings of animals, particularly pets, are not a proper subject for serious art.
The English Victorians loved their animals and children, in that order. They happily sent other people’s (working class) children to work in factories and mines, generously limiting their working day to “only” 10 hours in 1847, but had founded the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals a full two decades earlier. In the late C19th century artists made a good living from painting art featuring animals. Charles Burton Barber specialised in sentimental paintings of children and animals.
Edwin Landseer painter and sculpture was, in many ways still is, the master of the animal painting.
Some of the narrative that underpins his art is probably too sentimental for modern tastes, such as “Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner” (below) but we are dealing with a society that created the legend of Greyfriars Bobby (updated by Hollywood in 1949 in the Lassie film “Challenge to Lassie“).
The impressionists in France, however, looked at animals with a much less sentimental eye. The Father of impressionism, French artist, Édouard Manet liked to tackle modern and postmodern-life subjects, and several of his contemporary portraits included pets.
In the 1860s Manet painted one of his most controversial paintings, “Olympia” of a prostitute, with her servant and cat. The black cat traditionally symbolized prostitution.
Other impressionist artists like Renoir, Monet and Gauguin also painted every day scenes, which sometimes included the pets that shared their homes and the homes of their friends.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir portraits are bristling with pets, mostly dogs.
Yes, you do recognise that little black and white, pooch. That’s Tama, who was also painted by Manet. Tama was a Japanese spaniel who belonged to his friend Henri Cernuschi, a banker and collector of Asian art.
Claude Monet’s cat
Rosa Bonheur, another French painter and sculpture, was known as painter of animals or “animalière” was known for her artistic realism. Her paintings are very beautiful, although her hounds do look very solemn but not overly sentimental or twee.
Don’t make the mistake of his think that she was “just” an animal artist. Bonheur has been called “the most famous woman painter of her time, perhaps of all time”. She also painted Ploughing in the Nivernais, a truly epic painting (it is massive – 133cm×260cm or 52in×100in) which was first exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1848, and now at Musée d’Orsay in Paris. I stood in front of this painting in 2012 and marveled at her realistic depiction of the mud!
The exception seem to have been, Vincent Van Gogh, who does not seem to have been much interested in pets. He once drew an old lady with her dog and painted a couple of cow paintings.
Henri Matisse was definitely a cat lover.
Finally, I will finish with Welsh artist, Gwen John, who lived in Paris for most of her adult life was a painter of delicate portraits and interior scenes. She loved her cats they frequently featured in her paintings.
The Impressionists’ and Post-impressionists’ treatment of domestic animals and pets in their work showed that a pet dog or cat was considered serious subject that could included in portraits or in portraits of their own. They were part and parcel of Victorian life and their art reflected that. There was plenty of sentimental (English) pet art in the Victorian age but the French Impressions and Post-Impressionists showed that it was how you painted your subject matter that counted. In my next blog I will consider 20th century artists’ treatment of pets and animals in their art.
This is a new painting – “Lady Sheep” – a sheep of the manor overlooking a beautiful hilly estate in The Cotswolds, Gloucestershire. My parents live in the Cotswolds, which is delightful place.
I am always surprised by the amount of buildings stuck into the hills and valleys. I also love the homogeneity of the stone work in these building, similarly sand stoned and often with jade coloured doors. Beautiful place.
It is a poor image on an iphone but news of my artwork has arrived on the streets of London. I have recently been asked to join a select group of artists on a website called Painted.org.uk which will advertise the artwork of various artists throughout west and north London via these big LED digital screens. This is a really exciting and innovative venture and will show how effective these screens are in promoting artists. The official launch date is mid October so I will keep you posted and leave you with the first image thus far, of Queen Cow in all her Majesty!
You probably think that artists are good at creating paintings/images in all mediums; oil, watercolours acrylic paints. Many probably are, but I am not. I need to work at it. It’s a bit like being an athlete. You might be great at football but it doesn’t automatically mean you are a great sprinter, tennis player […]
What’s in a name? It’s complicated The name of the city I am living in right now is contentious. It’s official name is Londonderry but no one here seems to call it that, not even the council. Most people in the city itself, Protestants as well as Catholics, call it Derry. This suggests it is more […]
The ‘Illuminate’ festival is running over two weekends in Derry, 17th – 20th and 24th – 27th February, from 6pm – 9pm. We visited it on Thursday night. It was very cold (double socks and thermals weather) but mostly dry. This was important was all the sites we visited were out of doors. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and a brilliant introduction to Derry.