Over my mantelpiece I have a painting by a Montana artist, Davi Nelson.
It’s of cows. I bought it over a decade ago for my husband’s 40th birthday, and surprised him by having the painting hanging on the wall above the table at our favorite restaurant. He still references his “cows” as though he has an actual herd.
There’s something soothing and tranquil about cows. They’re the topic of age-old nursery rhymes and adages ("how-now, brown cow," "the cow jumped over the moon"), and the background moo-ing in a movie scene for some reason indicates goodness to come. (Really, test it out.)
My sole claim to any sort of fame is rescuing a cow at my friend’s farm when I was a kid. At the time I lived in Northern England, where my friend Sarah lived on Glebe Farm, fraught with cows. I realized one day as we were playing that one of the cows had got its head caught as it pushed its way through corrugated iron going for some tasty shrubbery, and then couldn’t get back. I alerted the necessary farm hands, and was a hero. At least for the day. At least in the mind of a 7-year-old.
Eugène Boudin painted around 20 pieces of the “placid beasts.” He had a very successful career mostly painting en plein air, helping to usher in the much-beloved style of Impressionism. In 1858, he met the younger artist Claude Monet and convinced him to begin painting outdoors, and out of a studio. In a famous letter to Boudin, Monet wrote: “I haven’t forgotten that it was you who first taught me to see and to understand.” Quite an accolade.
If all Boudin did was inspire a young Monet to paint outside, he would have left quite a legacy for the art world. But he left his own legacy, creating thousands of paintings and drawings in his lifetime, many of them seascapes with both sea and sky, of which his colleagues considered him “the master.” There is a museum solely dedicated to his work in the town of his birth, Honfleur, on France’s northwest coast, and his paintings can also be viewed worldwide at such galleries and museums as the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery in London.
And, of course, at the Montana Museum of Art and Culture.
This impressive piece was donated by Ralph Andre Kling who founded Charge-It of Baltimore, which later became MasterCard. Kling was one of several east coast socialites who donated works through the Hammer Gallery in New York City to the University of Montana in 1958, greatly adding to MMAC’s collection of European paintings.
"Bouefs au Bord d’une Riviere" is part of the Montana Museum of Art and Culture’s permanent collection and can be viewed, along with 119 equally interesting pieces, at the Paxson and Meloy galleries on the University of Montana Campus in the PAR/TV Center. MMAC’s exhibit “Art of the State: Celebrating 120 Years of the MMAC Permanent Collection” runs through May 23.