Boy Herding Cows, 1873
About the object
The scenery conveys a peaceful idyll, which almost stylises the boy as part of the herd of cows: he lies in the sun side by side with the cattle entrusted to him. Roux was considered a specialist animal painter, which is self-evident here. However, the everyday life of a young herder was far less romantic in reality, shaped by loneliness and hardship.
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Cows graze on an Alpine meadow; the scene could occur either in the Black Forest or in the Bavarian foothills. In the background a youth, charged with watching the cattle, stretches out on the meadow. The entire scene conveys the impression of a peaceful idyll. The boy almost seems one with the cows; like him, all but one of them have lain down. The leisure of the boy herder creates the deceptive impression that this is an easy and pleasant activity, but this romanticized view of the herding life does not correspond to reality. The boys had to care for the cows for hours on end in all kinds of weather, often remaining on the meadow even overnight. Above all, their work kept them from attending school: they were not infrequently illiterate due to spending so much time in the lonely meadows. What seems like a romantic country scene in reality bears witness to the hard conditions of everyday life, in which child labor was taken for granted. Karl Roux received his training at the academy in Düsseldorf. He achieved recognition as a specialist in animal pictures and drew inspiration from the traditions of 17th-century Dutch painting. In 1848, he came to Freiburg together with his friend and fellow painter Anselm Feuerbach (1829–1880), but to avoid conscription into the military he went on to Munich. Later, Roux taught at the Großherzogliche Kunstschule (Grand Ducal Art School) in Karlsruhe and in 1882 was appointed director of the Großherzogliche Gemäldegalerie (Grand Ducal Painting Gallery) in Mannheim. TILMANN VON STOCKHAUSEN (Transl. MELISSA THORSON)