One of the main reasons Henry Ward Ranger was attracted to Old Lyme was it proximity to the rural subjects of farms, fields, and farm animals. Sheep, oxen and horses were all painted, but the cow was the most popular.
Whether lying in a straw-filled stable or lazily grazing in a grassy meadow, the many images of cows captured the rural lifestyle of Lyme and conjured up a simpler time when man was more tied to the land—a subject that was popular at the time when modernity was sometimes viewed as a threat. This “cow craze” made the market for cow paintings very profitable and the images most fashionable—even for turn-of-the-century parlors. Indeed, the artist William Henry Howe painted an altered version of his award-winning Monarch of the Farm (1891) on a door in Miss Florence’s formal parlor and Matilda Browne painted a scene of grazing calves on Miss Florence’s bedroom door. Over the years the Museum has collected many paintings of rural subjects and especially of cows.
Journalist J. Hedges, (writing in dialect in the role
of a Connecticut Farmer Who Disapproves of Cow
Pictures), in the Boston Evening Transcript, 1917
According to cow painter extraordinaire Edward C. Volkert, “oxen are twice as good as cows at posing . . . . oxen are always ready to stand still, but cows are more inquisitive and when a newcomer appears they forsake their quiet rumination and come over to investigate.”
Ranger was a real proponent of these more contemplative yet still “humanized” landscapes. He remarked that “a farmer can’t cut down a tree or build a fence or dig a ditch or throw a bridge across a rill without helping to humanize his land. And a sensitive person will unconsciously feel the spell woven by generations of husbandmen piling the stones from the fields into walls.”
Unidentified Writer in article Paintings
at Lyme: Exhibition for Benefit of
Local Library, 1903
From sheep grazing on windswept hills and farmers toiling in the fields to quiet empty fields guarded by and ancient stone wall, these Lyme images captured a nostalgic sense of the past. These intimate views of rural life, as well as the tender “animalscapes,” as they are sometimes called, painted in Lyme and Old Lyme, were created by some of the most prominent painters working in this genre.
Unidentified Writer of article Paintings at Lyme:
Exhibition for Benefit of Local Library, 1903
The Museum’s archives are filled with fascinating photographs that reveal the people and places surrounding the Griswold boardinghouse. Because of the popularity of rural subjects, many postcard images contain images of the Lyme and Old Lyme farms and agrarian practices, such as salt-haying and hauling lumber.
George Glenn Newell (1870-1947)
Detail of Cow Resting in a Meadow, 1906
Oil on wood panel
Gift of the Artist