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James Ward was considered to be the greatest animal painter of his day, working with the publisher Boydell on an uncompleted record of the livestock breeds of Britain around 1800. His Gordale Scar (1812?-1814), a vast canvas in the Tate collection, shows a sublime and stormy Yorkshire landscape with a proud white bull apparently protecting his primeval domain. Painted during the Napoleonic Wars it undoubtedly carries a strong patriotic message. This painting of two hanging sides of beef from the same period, while being a Rembrandtesque exercise in the handling of paint, may well have similar connotations. Indeed the heavy 'painterly' quality to the work would have been seen at the time as a particularly British aesthetic trait.

August 2004