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Painting a Beautiful Bull

Oil painting of a Gower Bull by Emma Cownie
Sitting Bull

Following on from my last post about the inspiration behind my latest cow paintings, here’s my painting of “Sitting Bull”. He sat, chewing the cud, at the heart of a small herd of cattle on the top of Pennard cliffs. He looked very relaxed. I was struck by his muscularity, his massive neck, especially in comparison with the cows around him. I was intrigued by the series of lines circling his neck, which seemed mark the grooves of his flesh. I saw a cow with similar colouring in another group who had the same lines, albeit fainter ones. I tried to work out what his breed was but haven’t settled on any conclusively. He may be a Blue Grey or a Belgium Blue, I’m not sure.

It sounds silly but, I had been watching him sleep for some time before I realised that I looking at  sitting bull. I wondered how the famous Native American, called Sitting Bull , had come by his name. Was he a massive muscular man? All I could remember (from Hollywood films) was that he had fought and defeated General Custer (called “Yellow Hair” by the Native Americans in the films, I think) at the Battle of Little Big Horn. I later found out that Sitting Bull was the chief of the Lakota Sioux in South Dakota. He was named “Jumping Badger” at birth, this clearly did not suit his personality. His father called him “Slow” because he was always very careful and slow to take action. He was later given the name “Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down”, or “Sitting Bull”, after displaying bravery in raiding party. He was a very dynamic and dignified leader who spent four years in exile in Canada, toured with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show but was later killed in an act of police brutality. 

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Beautiful Cow

Many years ago my sister gave me and wonderful book called “Beautiful Sheep“.There were others in the “Beautiful” series, pigs and cows I believe, but this is the only one I had.


In it was a series of photographs of coiffured pedigree sheep photographed in studio settings. I spent a long time looking at these photos. What I particularly liked was the way the dark backgrounds made you really look at the sheep. Away from their usual settings of fields and farmyards, it brought out the natural gravitas and dignity of these animals.

I was inspired to revisit the subject of cows after researching and writing about the History of Cows in Art in the Ancient World and I decided to use this sort of approach, changing the background to look like a studio setting, to give the painting more of  Renaissance feel.

This is my first “Renaissance” cow. The title “The sitting” refers simply to the action of the cow as well as implying that she is sitting as my model.

The Sitting, an oil painting of a black and white cow
The Sitting

I am working on a companion piece called “Sitting Bull” which I will post very soon.