Throughout the centuries, animals have been a favorite subject for artists. Traditionally, they play a minor role in painted scenes, but from the 17th century onwards, painters specialized in animal subjects appeared. Each country then has its famous masters with accompanying pupils and followers. The animal genre enjoyed unprecedented popularity in the first half of the 19th century. Poultry and other small farm animals, sheep, chickens, cows and horses, dogs and cats are painted at their best, clean, well-fed and in an extraordinary quantity.
The "trade of the animals"
Animal painters usually specialized in a particular animal species. In the 19th century in the Netherlands, for example, Wouterus Verschuur and Otto Eerelman excelled at portraying horses, Hendrik Savrij and J.H.L. de Haas was known as painters of cows, and dogs were the specialty of Conradijn Cunaeus and Otto Eerelman. The young Henriëtte Ronner-Knip was also one of them, until around 1870 she mainly focused on painting cats in precious interiors.
Painting an animal was by no means simple: it does not stop on command to be portrayed. It is known that there were painters who tied a cow to a stake for a suitable pose. And later in the 19th century, artists sometimes found their exotic models in the shelter of the zoo. But it was quite a challenge with agile dogs and cats. In addition, in the 19th century, not only an accurate representation of anatomy, coat and movement was appreciated, but also the portrayal of the character. A separate genre was the artist's dog, a clear example of the closer bond that developed between humans and animals in the 19th century.
While the animals were portrayed in a more or less idealized way at the beginning of the 19th century, with Impressionism people really see the animals. De Haas paints chunky cattle under low-hanging clouds, Mauve becomes famous with sheep on a winter heath and Breitner likes to paint horses. Many of his contemporaries saw his work as "unfinished", which led to much criticism. From childhood Breitner had a predilection for horses and military subjects. The story goes that Charles Rochussen instilled in him a love for drawing and painting horses. He did this so well that Mesdag later asked him to paint the cavalry on the famous "Panorama Mesdag" in The Hague.