THE RURAL HISTORY CENTRE includes the Museum of English Rural Life
Museum of English Rural Life


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Livestock In Art

Prints and Paintings From the collections of the Museum of English Rural Life

The passion for rural pursuits in the 18th and early 19th centuries may be seen in the contemporary wealth of paintings and prints of rustic scenes. Portraits of prize farm animals, both romantic and stylised, appeared as an offshoot of that tradition. While such pictures met a popular demand, they were also important as a means of advertising the results of high feeding and controlled breeding which had been achieved by the early pioneers of livestock improvement. Some of the animals look improbable; but oxen fattened to enormous weights at seven or more years old are only to be imagined today. Many portraits were drawn with care and their body dimensions agree with the figures recorded on the prints. By the 1880s fewer portraits were needed as testimonials to the breeder's skill when an animal's virtues could be sought by reference to its pedigree in a herdbook.

Main article

The paintings and prints discussed in this article were in the main acquired for the Museum's collection by the kind support of the The Royal Smithfield Club, who assisted in the purchase of 43 prints in recognition of their value as a record of the history of livestock improvement in this country. The paintings were acquired with the help of a grant-in-aid from the Victoria. & Albert Museum. Together the pictures form a valuable contribution to the museum's resources.

Information for this article has been taken from various sources of material the Museum has produced for temporary exhibitions. The main article text was written by Anthony Jewell for the catalogue of the 1964 exhibition Portraits of Animals. Information and images have also been drawn from the museum's online collections database.

If you would like to explore the subject further, please browse through the database. Selecting "KEYWORD SEARCH" from the top menu bar, then typing in the word or phrase you want to search under, e.g. CATTLE or LIVESTOCK (you can use OR in your search to find results for multiple keywords), will bring up results for the whole of the Museum's collection as well as the Bibliography database. To limit your search to pictures, select: RESTRICT TO ITEMS HELD AT... THE MUSEUM OF ENGLISH RURAL LIFE and RESTRICT TO ITEMS OF MEDIA TYPE ... GRAPHIC MATERIALS

Our thanks to all contributors.


The Museum of English Rural Life, University of Reading, UK.
Email: Telephone: 0118 378 8660