In addition to his pictures of horses, Munnings frequently painted farmyard animals. These were obviously more than a passing interest since there are over thirty pictures known to depict cows. He writes in his memoirs, 'To my mind, a cow, although perhaps not so romantic and beautiful an animal as the horse is a better subject for the artist. [A cow] can be led, with one or two following, down to the streams or whatever I was painting. There they would group themselves and stand quietly, peacefully chewing their cud for hours' (see A.J. Munnings An Artist's Life, Bungay, 1950, p. 280). In fact in 1912 he actually purchased a black and white cow as a model. However a decade before his purchase of the black and white cow, and while he was still living in Mendham, he began painting a white cow as a single subject or mixed in a group of brown and white cattle, as in the present work. Teddy Holmes driving Shorthorns to milk, 1905, exhibited at Frost and Reed, London, 1997, no. 3 also features the cow in the present work.
As Munnings was a staunch advocate of plein air painting, the reason to paint this subject is obvious. The glistening white coat of the cow readily picks up the colours closest to it. The cow's side reflects the various tones of yellow from the nearby gorse, and its face and neck have the blueish shades from the sky. In addition, the white hues make a poignant contrast against the brown and yellow pallet of the gorse.
Munnings is known for his ability to express equine attitude, form and movement and although 1906 is early in Munnings's experience with cows, his masterful eye has perfectly captured the trepidation the cow feels as the herdsman advances. Her muscles are taught, ready to flee as she warily eyes potential danger, other cows jostle for position as the man approaches. Even the syncopated brushstrokes mimic the agitation of the cattle.
The present work will be included in the catalogue raisonné of Sir Alfred Munnings being prepared by Lorian Peralta-Ramos.