I was in an art gallery in a small provincial northern town when I saw the picture above. It made quite an impression on me, partly because it is absolutely vast, about 4m by 2m, and partly because the plate below the painting read as follows:
I thought this was fantastic. I mean, if you’re going to paint pictures of cows, you want to paint THE best picture of cows, don’t you? Otherwise what’s the point?
And then I wondered what H.W.B thought about it. Was this what he’d aimed for all his life? This was 1872, the year Monet painted “Impression, Sunrise”, perhaps H.W.B would rather have been on the banks of the Seine producing glittering compositions of light and colour?
I would like to think not. I imagine him walking round an impressionist exhibition and saying “Well it’s all very pretty, but there’s not a decent picture of a cow in sight!”
I don’t know if this was H.W.B’s masterpiece or not but it was exhibited at the Royal Academy and it still hangs in an art gallery today which is a legacy most painters would happily accept.
And maybe, just maybe, somewhere there is a lone artist, shut away in his studio, obsessively painting massive pictures of cows. Maybe at this moment, as he touches up a horn or lightly shades a hoof, he’s saying to himself “This’ll be the one. This will be the painting that that knocks H.W.B. Davis off his throne! This will be the best picture of cattle in the known world!”