Landscapes provide frameworks for the imagination. When a certain type of landscape which we grew up seeing “reminds us of home,” that type of landscape has shaped our imagination to associate the qualities of home with a particular visual experience. Landscape paintings give frameworks for a viewer’s imagination apart from memory, and are therefore able to broaden the ways in which we think, even apart from personal experience.
This exhibition features landscapes which represent ideas of how the world works, portray imagined worlds, or provide space and context for narrative. Koninck participates in the body of 17th century Dutch landscape painting, the typology of which has significantly shaped Western imagination— both in terms of visual language and the cultural “norm” of a flourishing local economy as the basis for larger society. Gahō’s use of landscape similarly expresses cultural values, in this case of balance, interconnectedness and amiably hierarchy. Singh also employs landscape to probe the nature of the world in India’s modernized yet deeply religious society. [Pilement] creates a narrative space with his landscape, giving the viewer an imagined context for the imagined story. Turner depicts an idyllic landscape idealizing the picturesque in a dream of a simpler, happier world. Finally, Mauve, another Dutch painter, shows an insipid yet fertile landscape where the meaning is created by those who dwell in and utilize the land.
What unites each of these works is the presence of cows, helping the viewer to interpret the landscape. The cows in these paintings play various roles, each congruent with the function of the landscape. Cows are of characters in a narrative space, religious iconography in a modern era, agents in a placid world, and a part of the whole economy. These roles inform the landscape they inhabit, and define what framework the landscape invokes in the viewer’s imagination.
Philips Koninck, Wide River Landscape, ca. 1648–49Oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 63.43.2
A small herd of cows graze and lounge in a field—one that they are obviously at home in. If you look closely, you can see a person milking one of the cows. These bovine apparently belong to a family farm where they are cared for and where they contribute their own part toward the well-being of the whole farm. The sense of belonging and economic productivity of the cows pervades the entire landscape. Each item set in the scene seems to be a valid, even appreciated, part of a wholesome world of Dutch economy.
Hashimoto Gahō, Boy with Cow at the River’s Edge, Meiji period (1868–1912)
Album leaf; ink and color on
silk, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 18.104.22.168
A boy and a cow walk together. Though the boy is carrying a harness attached to the cow’s nose, the rope is slack, so that the boy is not so much leading the cow as simply walking alongside, one with the other. The boy glances back and up toward the birds; the cow seems to be eye-balling her next step on the bank of the river. The relationship between cow and boy features prominently in the composition, but also extends to our perception of the landscape as well. Each element relates to every other through a network of organic connections.