This weekend, I’m down on the farm, looking at paintings of farmyards. Since the dawn of agriculture, these have been the hub of activity, with chickens and other domesticated creatures roaming free, passing cattle, and a frenzy during the harvest. I start with two of the early and finest animal artists, Paulus Potter and Adriaen van de Velde, both of whom died tragically early in their careers.
Paulus Potter’s Peasant Family with Animals (1646) shows a family with a curiously grotesque young daughter in the yard beside their cottage, and some wizened trees. Among his extensive repertoire of farm animals are two cows, one of which is being milked.
In Potter’s Cows Grazing at a Farm, painted in 1653, the year before his early death, the rich light of dusk might be more typical of Corot two hundred years later.
Adriaen van de Velde’s undated Milkmaid with Cow and Goats in Front of a Barn is a farmyard delight, with the cow being milked looking directly at the viewer, and one of the boys letting the sheep out of the shed.
The Hut (1671) was one of van de Velde’s last paintings, and has long been esteemed in the Netherlands. It is one of his most natural compositions, sparkling with bright colour in the clothing and animals. The artist even adds the reality – perhaps with a touch of humour – of some fresh cowpats.
The Straw Yard (1810) is a wonderfully loose sketch in which James Ward brings together the dereliction in the countryside, and a menagerie of farm animals, including horses, two donkeys, chickens, and many pigs and piglets, all gathered in the farmyard.
It was another animal painter, Constant Troyon, who painted this more extensive yard outside a Farmhouse in Normandy (before 1845). This is an unusually wide-angled view from low down, which appears quite original.
According to Camille Corot’s painting of The Toutain Farm, Honfleur from about 1845, this has a yard well sheltered by trees, but appears much quieter.
Following Corot are paintings by those of the French Impressionists who are less well-known.
Adolphe-Félix Cals, who exhibited at the first and subsequent Impressionist Exhibitions until his death in 1880, also visited Honfleur. Whether the farm in his undated Landscape with a Farmyard is the same as Corot’s isn’t obvious, although both their yards were wooded.
The Romanian Impressionist Nicolae Grigorescu painted this undated view of a Farmhouse Yard, with its few animals and nearby haystacks. Grigorescu travelled widely in Europe prior to 1869, then spent most of his time in Bucharest before returning to France in 1879. The only real clues as to the farm’s location are the dress of the two figures, who appear more likely to be Romanian than Breton.
My last farmyard view of today was painted by Henri Rouart, the industrialist who provided so much financial support to the French Impressionists at the start of their careers, and who was an enthusiastic and talented artist himself. Rouart’s Walls of a Farm, Queue-en-Brie from about 1880 shows the farmyard of his family’s country property. Apart from a few hens, it appears deserted.