Highland Monarchc. 1862 by
Verboeckhoven, Eugene-Joseph 1790-1881
Highland Monarch is typical of Verboeckhoven's painting, in its subject as well as in its emphasis on accurate observation, fine craftsmanship, and expression of repose. Although he painted many different kinds of animals, sheep were among those he most frequently depicted. The may represent public preferences, for in 1839 a Belgian critic wrote that above all, "his sheep, donkeys and roe-deer" were the favorites of art lovers. The foreground sheep, with their massive and expressive forms, command attention; are distinctly visible. The same minute rendering if other details - tufts of grass, hoof marks imprinted in the soft soil - bring the enclosed area strongly forward from the distant meadows and mountains.

Typically Verboeckhoven's animals, as here, appear groomed and well-behaved, like middle-class members of society. Each sheep seems to have a personality suited to its position within a communal hierarchy. The patriarch reclines authoritatively, while the younger sheep display a restless alertness. One nuzzles the shepherd's cape; the other looks directly out of the painting. The two lambs, with their budding horns and light coats, not unexpectedly suggest innocence.

This painting is one of the many representations of animals in the Scottish Highland that the artist produced in the 1860s and 1870s. The sheep, with their black-and-white mottled faces, curved horns, and bulky coats are typical of a Highland variety still commonly seen today. The mountainous landscape and rude cottages in the background create an appropriate setting. While difficult to make out because of his small size, the shepherd in the distant meadow appears to wear traditional Scottish garb.

Verboeckhoven's high standards of craftsmanship meant attention to detail, care in composition, and conscientious execution. It is evident that the artist worked out the composition with an eye to balance and unity before he touched brush to canvas: mass answers mass. The sheep pose on converging diagonals that span the picture plane. The eye is taken back systematically from the immediate foreground, along the stone wall of the enclosure to the lit meadow to the distant peaks obscured by clouds. Such careful planning establishes an overall harmony that is reinforced by gentle colors.

Although methodically unified, this painting is hardly monotonous. Verboeckhoven has introduced richly varied effects, from the inconstant lighting to the myriad details. All is painted with delicate glazes to create a smooth, translucent surface. Highland Monarch fulfills the artist's own standards for a finished work: fullness and unity.

Size (inches): 25 1/8 x 34 1/8
Medium: Oil on Panel
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