Girl with Cows

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Girl with Cows

United States, 1860
Paintings
Oil on canvas
Canvas: 31 7/16 × 25 1/2 in. (79.85 × 64.77 cm) Frame: 44 × 38 × 4 in. (111.76 × 96.52 × 10.16 cm)
Purchased with funds provided by Joseph T. Mendelson and Mr. and Mrs. Allan C. Balch Fund (M.78.59)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

After his return to the United States in 1855, Hunt worked in Newport, Rhode Island, continuing to produce figure paintings reflecting the spell of Millet....
After his return to the United States in 1855, Hunt worked in Newport, Rhode Island, continuing to produce figure paintings reflecting the spell of Millet. Girl with Cows relates closely to the peasant images Hunt created while in France, in particular his On the Edge of the Forest, c. 1853 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), in which a woman stands next to a grazing cow in a forest glade. The image of a female peasant quietly involved in knitting or sewing, while tending farm animals, was a common theme in mid-century French art. Millet created several such images, including Peasant Woman Guarding Her Cow, 1852 (Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam), while Hunt lived at Barbizon. Edward Wheelwright, another follower of Millet in the intimate circle around Hunt, may have been instrumental in Hunt’s creating this specific image. Wheelwright brought back to America Millet’s The Knitter, 1856 (Cincinnati Art Museum), which is the closest pictorial source for Hunt’s Girl with Cows. Unlike On the Edge of the Forest but similar to Millet’s The Knitter, Girl with Cows depicts a young peasant girl in a secluded forest glade with the thick foliage of trees forming a barrier between her and the distant field seen partially in the distance. Consequently the focus is solely on the figure and cows. The scene is painted in dark, shadowy tones. Two cows--one brown, the other white--frame the young girl, forming contrasts of light and dark, while picking up the sweet pink and blue colors of her simple peasant garb. The white handkerchief wrapped around her head glows in the reflected yellows and pinks. Indeed, the entire scene is rich with color, even to the warm browns and greens of the darker passages.
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About The Era

After the Jacksonian presidency (1829–37), the adolescent country began an aggressive foreign policy of territorial expansion, exemplified by the success of the Mexican-American War (1846–48)....
After the Jacksonian presidency (1829–37), the adolescent country began an aggressive foreign policy of territorial expansion, exemplified by the success of the Mexican-American War (1846–48). Economic growth, spurred by new technologies such as the railroad and telegraph, assisted the early stages of empire building. As a comfortable and expanding middle class began to demonstrate its wealth and power, a fervent nationalist spirit was celebrated in the writings of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville. Artists such as Emanuel Leutze produced history paintings re-creating the glorious past of the relatively new country. Such idealizations ignored the mounting political and social differences that threatened to split the country apart. The Civil War slowed development, affecting every fiber of society, but surprisingly was not the theme of many paintings. The war’s devastation did not destroy the American belief in progress, and there was an undercurrent of excitement due to economic expansion and increased settlement of the West.
During the postwar period Americans also began enthusiastically turning their attention abroad. They flocked to Europe to visit London, Paris, Rome, Florence, and Berlin, the major cities on the Grand Tour. Art schools in the United States offered limited classes, so the royal academies in Germany, France, and England attracted thousands of young Americans. By the 1870s American painting no longer evinced a singleness of purpose. Although Winslow Homer became the quintessential Yankee painter, with his representations of country life during the reconstruction era, European aesthetics began to infiltrate taste.
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Label

Exhibition Label, 1997 ...
Exhibition Label, 1997 William Morris Hunt was a major proselytizer of French Barbizon painting and was almost solely responsible for introducing that style to the United States. Hunt trained with Thomas Couture in Paris during the late 1840s and worked with the peasant painter Jean-Francois Millet in the forest of Barbizon, thus was fully accomplished in mid-century French romantic aesthetics. Although he became a prominent portrait painter in New England after his return to the United States in 1855, he also produced landscapes and peasant scenes. Girl with Cows amply demonstrates Hunt’s adoption of Barbizon subject matter and style: this quiet, naturalistic rendering of a peasant woman knitting among her cows is conveyed in deep, glowing tones that heighten the nostalgia of the theme. Peasant life was quickly dying out in France and other areas of western Europe, as industrialization transformed agricultural production and beckoned young laborers to the cities. The fluted cove (concave) frame became popular after the Civil War as artists and artisans, striving for restraint, based their designs on eighteenth-century French neoclassical examples. This frame, dating from the late 1860s, may be the original one, as Hunt was such a major proponent of French art and style.
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Bibliography

  • About the Era.
  • Fort, Ilene Susan and Michael Quick.  American Art:  a Catalogue of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Collection.  Los Angeles:  Museum Associates, 1991.