‘Counting sheep’ may have come to be advice for going to sleep but in real-life shepherding it is essential to check the flock is complete. Here the volunteer sous shepherdess is trying to reach 67, the size of the flock, a total we seldom achieved day to day; yet somehow 67 sheep were safely returned to Orford Ness.
Most of the flock proved very amenable to leadership: the knack proved to be to persuade two or three of its own ‘leaders’, usually White-faced Woodlands, to start moving in the required direction and the rest would follow. Here I am leading them back to their ‘home’ pasture for the night. The black Hebridean in the foreground, one of the malcontents, is characteristically going in the opposite direction.
A shepherding novice, I was slow to make the connection between the painting which I was not doing and my daily tasks on the Warren. It took the painting below, ‘Landscape with Sheep and Shepherd, Derbyshire, 1944,’ by Keith Vaughan, exhibited at the London Art Fair on 18 January, to jolt me into the realisation that what I was doing was central to one of the main threads running through art history, the pastoral tradition, particularly strong of course in relation to sheep. Rather than my volunteer task taking me away from my painting, I was in fact in a sense performing art, exemplified, from a very long list of sheep-works, by medieval sheep carvings in English churches, Samuel Palmer’s paintings and, perhaps rather surprisingly, Keith Vaughan’s mid-20th century creation.
Having made that connection and tapped into this pastoral tradition, I might well be about to launch into a wide-ranging discussion of this tradition in Western art. I shall, however, desist, since just about every art student has already written it.