Cow Boys by Augustus Wall Callcott (1779-1844). 1807. Oil on canvas. H 127 x W 107.5 cm. Collection: Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry. Accession number: VA.1955.0548. Acquired through the Lord Kenilworth Bequest, 1954. This quite large-scale painting is another work in which Callcott has experimented with colour. David Blayney Brown comments usefully,

It would be foolish to claim that Callcott could stand in the same league as Turner either as a theorist or practitioner in matters of colour, but, like Turner, he had been brought up in an atmosphere seething with colouristic nostrums and recipes, and among his notes are many concerned with colour problems which show that he shared the contemporary fascination for the subject. Callcott had much in common with Turner as a colourist, and in this respect he was far from being merely a copyist; indeed he was regarded in his lifetime as something of an innovator in his use of colour.... the evicence suggests that that Callcott reached an understanding of what was then termed "aerial perspective," of the effect of atmosphere and distance on from, and developed an associated colouristic programme which involved working upwards from the highest tones and downwards from the darkest, independently of Turner's influence. [32-33]

In fact, Brown reports, Cow Boys itself was probably the work "compared favourably to Turner's Sun Rising through Vapour at the time (33). The figures of the boys and the lively sheepdog in the right-hand corner of the foreground add not just a sense of scale, but a touch of everyday life, to a scene with more than a hint of the sublime — seen close up, they also suggest that Callcott was a better figure-painter than Turner. — Jacqueline Banerjee


Brown, David Blayney. Augustus Wall Callcott. London: Tate Gallery, 1981.

Created 14 April 2023