Two Highland Cow Paintings from the McManus in Dundee

The Victorian gallery at The McManus in Dundee, with its original curved red walls, vaulted glass ceiling, and ornamental plasterwork is impressive even before you start to absorb individual paintings. I was there in May, after being to the V&A Dundee (see photos).

Two paintings featuring Highland cows caught my attention. This one, A Highland Parting, was painted in 1885 by Gourlay Steell. Having looked him up, I now know he was a Royal Scottish academician, appointed in 1872 as the official painter of animals to Queen Victoria, succeeding Edwin Landseer (of Monarch of the Glen fame).

Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel

This gives you an idea of the size of the painting. (I can’t recall what had caught my Ma’s attention to the left.) I like the rich colour, the brushwork creating the windsweptness of the cow’s hair, that there’s the full cow colour range, the contrast between meticulous and suggested, plus those sheep.

Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Detail of shepherd from Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Detail of sheep from Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel
Gallery label for Highland cows painting by Gourlay Steel

The other was Moorland and Mist by Peter Graham. The appeal wasn’t so much the photographic realism of the cows as the background lost in the mist. How so much of the composition has a tantalising feeling of the mist about to shift any minute and let you see more. Contrasting with the detailed foreground and cows, giving the viewer’s eye a respite from all the detail.

Highland cow painting by Peter Hraham
Detail from highland cow painting by Peter Hraham
Detail from highland cow painting by Peter Hraham
Gallery label for highland cow painting by Peter Hraham

3 Replies to “Two Highland Cow Paintings from the McManus in Dundee”

  1. The painting by Graham is more to my taste, not least because the weather is very typical of what I regularly encounter when out walking. I find the Steell picture much too busy for me but when you isolate elements they are quite magnificent. How many pictures could one make from this by taking smaller areas and framing them? I love the McManus and much preferred it to the V&A last time I went. I will go again in April when we are up for the Mary Quant exhibition.

    1. I think the Steell works better in real life than a photo because of the scale of it; up close you see only part of it at a time. Agree that there are so many smaller paintings that could be pulled from this that would be enough for a composition.

      Hopefully the V&A Dundee will see MM getting more visitors too as it’s a gem!

  2. My godmother had two enormous Victorian prints of Highland cows in her sitting room. As a South African child these fascinated me and it was a highlight to eventually see them in real life.

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