Alvan Fisher’s career, which included portraits, genre scenes, and landscapes, is illustrative of the versatility necessary for a New England painter of his day. Landscape with Cows stands out as one of Fisher’s most ambitious early works, particularly for its format: a large landscape made...
Alvan Fisher’s career, which included portraits, genre scenes, and landscapes, is illustrative of the versatility necessary for a New England painter of his day. Landscape with Cows stands out as one of Fisher’s most ambitious early works, particularly for its format: a large landscape made before such scenes began to dominate American art. It is one of a group of paintings Fisher called “the watering place” and it shares many similarities with a painting he made the same year, also entitled Watering Place (Fruitlands Museum, Harvard, Massachusetts). In the MFA’s painting, Fisher depicted a group of cattle, their drivers on horseback, and a ferryman poling a boat. The balance of figures, as well as the two paths, allows the viewer’s eye to meander across and around the work thus demonstrating Fisher’s command of the picturesque landscape tradition. He found such “scenes belonging to rural life. . . . a more lucrative, pleasant and distinguishing branch of the art than portrait painting.” His realistic depictions of animals were frequently praised and he was sometimes hired by other artists, who were not as skilled, to paint animals into their work. In 1827, the Boston Daily Advertiser wrote of Fisher: “His cattle are often touched with great truth and spirit” . The sensitively painted cows in this painting, as well as the two hunting spaniels—Fisher’s favorite breed—add a charm to this traditional “waiting for the ferry” motif. While Fisher’s subject matter and composition, and his precise handling of the oak foliage, show the clear influence of Dutch painting, this landscape is likely Massachusetts. The topographical nature of the scene in the background of the painting, as well as the small village with a characteristic New England–style church steeple, provide a sense of scale and depth. These images are similar to the landscape and animal studies found in Fisher’s sketchbook [1978.360] from the year 1816. By depicting a moment of everyday rural life familiar to his New England patrons and neighbors, Fisher solidified his appeal to a regional audience. On the back of this panel, Fisher inscribed “A. Fisher/Nov’r 1816/No. 15.” This number likely corresponds to painting No. 15 in Fisher’s sales ledger, which indicates that the painting was sold, framed, to George Blake, Esq., for $132 in 1817.  From Blake, a Boston resident and U.S. district attorney, the painting passed to Joseph Warren Revere [1987.55] (1777–1868), the son of the famed Revolutionary patriot Paul Revere [30.781]. Landscape with Cows descended through the Revere family until it was donated to the Museum in the 1980s. Notes 1. William Dunlap, History of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States, vol. 2 (New York: George P. Scott and Co., 1834), 264. 2. Fred B. Adelson, Seeking the Realization of a Dream (Cape Cod, Mass: Heritage Plantation of Sandwich, 2001), 6. 3. Fred B. Adelson, “Alvan Fisher: Pioneer in American Landscape Painting” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1982), 140. Naomi H. Slipp
Reverse: A Fisher No 15/1816/NOV R
The artist; Joseph Warren Revere; descended in family to Margaret A. Revere; to MFA, 1986, gift of Margaret A. Revere.
Gift of Margaret A. Revere