This painting is an excellent example of the type of bucolic landscape scenes that made Hart so popular. Watering cows, such as the ones depicted here, are recurring subjects in Hart’s oeuvre; he considered them to be more “natural” than a human presence. Hart’s grandson, the author and humorist E.B. White, recalled of his grandfather: “He was particularly excited by landscapes that contained cows. Many of his best and most ambitious oils featured cattle. I have seen some of sketchbooks: they are loaded with details of udders, rear ends, heads, horns and hooves.” In this painting, a group of cows are drinking from the banks of a quiet mountain river.
Keene Valley, the setting of this painting, is situated in the New York Adirondacks. Hart painted a considerable number of landscapes featuring Keene Valley during the mid-1870s, including an almost exact copy of this painting in 1878, which has the same dimensions and differs only slightly through the arrangement of cows. Hart was known to produce similar works that were either mirror images or near exact copies, which appear to be final products rather than sketches. This brings a new depth of meaning to George W. Sheldon’s statement, “Mr. Hart never was a copyist -- of anyone but himself.”