Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s favorite early subject was the cow. He later recollected that “he felt very near to the cow” because he “was born, judging by the Japanese calendar, in a ‘cow year.’” He must have been especially pleased to have been invited by his patron Hamilton Easter Field to study and paint at the summer art colony of Ogunquit, Maine, surrounded by coastal farms. There he “usually . . . [began] with a cow”; not surprisingly, then, Cows in Pasture is one of about 60 such pictures he painted in the 1920s.
The composition’s compressed space and the cows’ large scale and flat profiles reflect Kuniyoshi’s fondness for American folk art, an interest he shared with other members of the Ogunquit colony. The painting’s disjunctive perspective and sharp geometries also suggest the artist’s interest in avant-garde European art, such as that of Paul Cézanne, following the 1913 Armory Show. Curiously, these two traditions shared a tendency toward broad planes of color and dramatic asymmetry with the Japanese art that Kuniyoshi had known in his youth.