Philine van der Vegte’s “Mooving” Paintings Explore the Hidden Lives of Dairy Cows

Paige Simianer | October 6, 2022

Featured Artist Philine van der Vegte often prefers the company of those on four legs.

Working from her studio (a converted dairy farm just north of Amsterdam, Netherlands), Featured Artist Philine van der Vegte draws her animal subjects from life in the fields and barns around her. 

"You can't find me happier than when I'm painting fur with huge brushes and broad strokes," Philine beams.

On a deeper level, this artist explores the long-standing (and sometimes uncomfortable) relationship between kept animals and humans. 

"The dependence and trust animals have for us gives us a huge responsibility," Philine says. "I'm not at all sure that we as humans live up to our part of the deal."

Last year, Philine van der Vegte finished a large-scale project that explores the different aspects of dairy farming. The solo exhibition, 'MILK' culminated in a show at the Waterlandsmuseum De Speeltoren in Monnickendam, as well as a published book.

TRIGGER WARNING: Brief mention of animal death and somewhat graphic representation of animal birth. 

Artwork Archive got the chance to chat with Philine van der Vegte about her creative process, subject matter, and life on the dairy farm. You can see more of her work on Discovery and learn more about her work below. 

Philine van der Vegte, ''Newborn Calf', 50 x 65 cm (19.69 x 25.59 in), 2021

Has your work changed over time—do you find yourself understanding your art career through different periods of expression?

Obviously, my work has changed over the past few years—and I’m sure it will continue to evolve.

At first, I was very preoccupied with technique and painted a wide array of subjects. Now, I feel I’m more focused on the ideas behind the work, although I’m still searching for expressive brushmarks in my paintings. I also concentrate more on animals than before.


Do you have a favorite or most satisfying part of your process?

I love making quick live sketches of animals in the field, both drawing and in painting. The rush of getting it just right before the animal starts moving again is unbeatable!

Of course, there are a lot of misses as well, and I have piles and piles of bad drawings. I like the thrill of trying to get it right in one go, but visible signs of searching for the right shapes are part of the work, too.

The brushstroke is essential, and I try to achieve the freshness of my life sketches in the larger studio paintings as well.



You mention that the “uncomfortable relationship between kept animals and humans” keeps popping up in your work. Can you elaborate a bit more about this dynamic and how your work addresses it?

I have always loved the small-holder farm life—dreaming about the Little House on the Prairie as a child, growing a vegetable garden, and keeping chickens as an adult.

When we moved to a rural area just north of Amsterdam, we got sheep and turkeys. I even kept my own heritage breed pigs for a while, making sausages and drying hams in the shed. I made enough soap with the pork fat to last us a lifetime.

However, keeping my own animals and living in between dairy farmers forced me to adjust my romantic views and has given me a lot more insight into the real farm life.

Wherever there are lambs jumping around in a field, there also lies the pressure to get them big enough in time for Easter lunch. Wherever there is cheese made, there are calves fattened for slaughter. Birth and death go hand in hand.

When we keep animals, whether for food or for company, we have a responsibility to take care of them. The way animals are thought of as products remains largely hidden from the public, who still have this kind of fifties nostalgic idea about farming.

This idea is actively fostered by advertisements and promotion campaigns. If anything, I would like for people who see my paintings to think a bit about this responsibility and to think about whether it’s necessary to use these animals at all.

Philine van der Vegte, 'The Future Miss Holland I', 22 x 32 cm (8.66 x 12.6 in), 2021

Congratulations on the success of your recent solo exhibition, 'MILK'! Can you tell us more about this project and why you were interested in expressing the life of a cow on a dairy farm?

I worked on the MILK project throughout 2021 for a solo exhibition at Waterlandsmuseum de Speeltoren in Monnickendam.It's about painting my immediate surroundings, with a focus on the different aspects of contemporary dairy farming.

How do things really work on a modern dairy farm and why? How does this affect the animals, the people handling them, and the landscape in which they live?

I wanted to look into this and capture it with an open mind. I wanted to paint as much as my neighbors would allow within stables and fields. I wanted to see what has been done by other painters. To talk with farmers a lot. To paint a few big cattle works. To record a lifeline from birth to slaughter. To educate myself and maybe others.  

Philine van der Vegte, ''Milk', 200 x 700 cm (78.74 x 275.59 in), 2021

What did you discover about how things really work on a modern dairy farm, and how did your work help you explore this?

Because I live between dairy farmers and have always been interested in animals, I thought I already knew quite a lot. What I had not realized enough is the relentless rhythm of birth—life—slaughter, where both animals and farmers are trapped in an economic system that hurts both.

For example, because of my paintings, I was allowed into the calf market to paint. Even the dairy farmers don’t usually go there. The young calves are brought in by cattle dealers and bought by calf fattening companies. I found it quite upsetting to be there. A nicer example was witnessing some births—I would not have had an opportunity to do that if I had not been working on the 'MILK' project.


Is there an animal you have yet to paint but have the desire to? If yes, which one? 

I will soon start on a project about animals in ARTIS: The Amsterdam Zoo for an exhibition in February 2024. I have been drawing there a lot, but not yet painting.

I’m looking forward to doing giraffes! Probably not life-size this time, though...

Philine van der Vegte working in her studio. Photo courtesy of the artist

Why did you decide to use Artwork Archive to manage your artwork and how do you use it on a daily basis?

In 2016, I was looking for a good inventory system and found Artwork Archive. Before that, I just used photos.

Now, whenever I finish a painting, I put it in the system. I input sales as well. I use the exhibition feature a lot to plan shows, select paintings for a show, and to give me reminders for dates to drop off or pick up work. 

Sometimes, I make private collections for galleries or clients. I use the Editions to keep track of etchings, and I have a link on my website for people to see available artwork. 

Mainly, I use it to know which work I made when, what it costs, what the exact size is, to whom I sold it, or if it is available.


What advice would you give an emerging artist right now?

Make good work! That's the most important. But it really helps to be organized so that if you get the opportunity for a show or an interview you can react quickly with a proposal.


Philine van der Vegte uses Artwork Archive to inventory her artwork, stay on top of her exhibition details, and stay connected with her clients. 

You can make an online portfolio, catalog your artwork, and generate reports like inventory reports, tear sheets, and invoices in seconds with Artwork Archive. Take a look at Artwork Archive's free trial and start growing your art business.

Share This Article
Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies. Cookie Policy