Thomas Gainsborough, “Landscape with Cattle”

Second place: Veronica Novack

The beauty of simplicity comes to light in this oil-on-canvas painting, Landscape with Cattle, created by Thomas Gainsborough ca. 1773. This idyllic oil painting portrays the landscape of a place where he wished to retire, and a place where he could paint at peace. Personally, this is a place where I dream of someday settling down and being able to find peace. Land is becoming more and more developed. It is harder to find land where there is quietness left. Looking at this painting and studying the many different aspects is pleasantly surprising. To me, this is a painting you may take a quick glance at, only noticing the “bigger picture.” Spectators may see this and think of your ordinary farm landscape painting. But between the tumbling hills and cascading creek, there is a story being told. A long day on the farm is slowing down and reaching its end as the sun pours golden light over the farm’s landscape and creeps between the trees. Cattle cover the land, grazing and taking in warmth from the gold evening sun. The flowing creek replenishes the thirsty cattle, and the shepherd boys go their separate ways. On the shore of the creek, you find a milkmaid and her lover catching their breath from the day’s tasks, bathing in the golden sun and admiring the farm’s tranquil beauty and its silhouette before their eyes. The long day of work is easily repaid by the comforting silence of nature and its breathtaking views. Nature becomes a safe space for the workers to relax and free their heads. 

Gainsborough did a remarkable job in making you feel the sense of light and warmth in this painting. He included such rich values, yet he was still able to differentiate between every little detail such as the texture in the leaves of the tree and the cattle’s backbones. You can see how the land continues and nature takes over for as far as the eye can see. Gainsborough romanticizes the life of living simply and appreciating nature and its beauty. Despite only being able to support himself with portrait-style paintings, he always loved landscape paintings. He created this landscape painting without the intention of making a living off it, but instead doing what he loved and giving nature the recognition it deserved. 

During the 1700s, farming was the main source of income. Farming was hard but honest work that repaid in many ways. Taking good care of the cattle and allowing free range, the cattle repaid with its milk or beef of the best quality. I think of this painting as also a reminder that farming is still as important, and its quality needs to return to what it once was. This painting encourages farming and the fair treatment of animals. Unfortunately, today a lot of farming is done in cages and mass-produced, filled with steroids and chemicals. What these animals are eating and being injected with is also what we will be eating in the end. This painting is the true definition of what farming should be: safe for humans, safe for the animals, and good for the land. As technology is growing, honesty and integrity tends to be overlooked to mass-produce in the fastest way possible rather than worrying about safety and quality. Gainsborough’s work literally paints farming as what it should be. Farming is an art. Nature is beautiful and undefeatable in the end. He truly created a serene landscape painting that tells a story and reminds us to appreciate everything nature provides us. Our planet is so powerful and breathtaking in many ways. 

About the author

Veronica Novak studied in the Humanities Department at Gateway Community College in fall 2021. 

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Top image
Thomas Gainsborough RA, Landscape with Cattle (detail), ca. 1773, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection