A Portrait of Man's Best Friend - Dogs in Paintings and Art

Goodnight by Arthur Elsely

Goodnight by Arthur Elsely. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Goodnight by Arthur Elsely. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Our four-legged friends- is it a dog's life as an artist's companion?

Dogs have been man's faithful companions since the earliest of times, and their images have been recorded throughout the centuries. They have herded our sheep, hunted hares and foxes for us, accompanied us on shooting expeditions, guarded us whilst we sleep, and provided affectionate friendship in good times and bad. Small wonder then, that paintings and drawings of our four-legged friends are so popular.

The artists who have painted our canine companions are many and varied. Some, such as Sir Edwin Landseer, have specialised in animal portraiture, whilst others have learned to include dogs in their paintings as a nod to the legions of dog-lovers who also buy art. Dogs are such an integral part of our lives that we shouldn't be surprised to find match-stick mutts in paintings by Lowry, cute little lap dogs in the works of Manet and Degas, and elegant, long-legged hounds in the grand society portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds. In this article I have searched out some lovely examples of dogs in art. Some were made thousands of years ago, whilst others are more recent, but all of them tell you something about the relationship between man, and dog. Enjoy.

Cave Canem!

Cave Canum! A Roman mosaic from Pompeii on display at the Museo Archaelogico in Naples, Italy. Photographed by Massimo Finizio. Image Courtesy Wiki Commons
Cave Canum! A Roman mosaic from Pompeii on display at the Museo Archaelogico in Naples, Italy. Photographed by Massimo Finizio. Image Courtesy Wiki Commons

Cave Canem! Beware of the dog, Roman style

This mosaic is exhibited in the National Archeological Musem in Naples, Italy. It comes from the archeological excavations at Pompeii, and is thought to be at least 2,000 years old. Pompeii was destroyed during the eruption of the volcano, Vesuvius in 79 A.D, and lay undisturbed under the ground until a chance discovery in around 1592. Since then, Pompeii has been extensively excavated and it is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A fantastic amount of visitors look at the ruins each year, making it one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions.

'Cave Canem' translates as 'Beware of the dog'. Even two thousand years ago, homes were guarded in this way. The hound in the mosaic looks as though he would give a good account of himself.

Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner by Sir Edwin Landseer 1837

Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner by Sir Edwin Landseer, 1837. Image courtesy Wiki Commons
Old Shepherd's Chief Mourner by Sir Edwin Landseer, 1837. Image courtesy Wiki Commons

Landseer's Painting of a Faithful Companion

The Victorians in particular were very fond of animal portraits, and Queen Victoria herself was a keen collector of art featuring dogs and other animals. One of her favourite artists was Sir Edwin Landseer who created the fabulous lions that guard Nelson's Column in London's Trafalgar Square. Landseer was commissioned on a number of occasions to portray the royal familys' pets, but he was equally popular with ordinary British citizens. Prints of his paintings were in high demand, and he became a much loved figure in British society. In fact he was so well loved that on his death on 1 October 1873, shops and houses lowered their blinds as a mark of respect, flags flew at half-mast, and his famous bronze lions were hung with wreaths.  Large crowds lined the streets to watch his funeral cortege pass on the way to his final resting place in St Pauls Cathedral, London.

This painting of an old shepherd's faithful companion shows  the sheepdog waiting sadly next to his master's coffin. It is a deliberately emotive image, guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings of even the most hardened observer. Looking at the dogs mournful expression you can see the sadness in his face. His master is dead, and he is left alone to mourn.

The Order of Release by Sir John Everett Millais, 1853

The Order of Release by Sir John Everett Millais, 1853. Image courtesy Wiki Commons
The Order of Release by Sir John Everett Millais, 1853. Image courtesy Wiki Commons

The Order of Release by John Everett Millais

This picture shows the release of a Jacobite soldier, imprisoned by the English after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army at the battle of Culloden in 1746. His wife hands the guard the Order of Release, and the injured Jacobite leans towards his wife, putting his head on her shoulder. The soldiers barefooted wife has a stoic, faraway expression, and the suggestion is that her husband's freedom may not have been bought so cheaply. The family dog jumps up to greet his master, and in this fine, Pre-Raphaelite painting, the dog is included as a symbol of loyalty and faithfullness.

At the time this painting was in progress, the model for the soldier's wife, Effie Ruskin, was still married to the eminent Victorian art critic, John Ruskin, but it wasn't too long after this painting was completed that Effie began to push for her own 'order of release'. The Ruskin's marriage was dissolved for reasons of non-consummation in 1854, and she married the artist, John Millais the following year. They went on to have eight children together.

Detail from Les Pelerins d'Emmaus by Paolo Veronese

Detail from Les Pelerins d'Emmaus by Paolo Veronese, painted in the 16th century. Image courtesy Wiki Commons.
Detail from Les Pelerins d'Emmaus by Paolo Veronese, painted in the 16th century. Image courtesy Wiki Commons.

Veronese's girls with pet dog

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) was an Italian artist who painted many large scale religious scenes. This detail is taken from one of his early works, 'Les Pelerins d'Emmaus', and is a beautifully rendered cameo of two charming blond children playing with a very patient and obliging pet dog. Both girls are dressed in rich Venetian costumes from Veronese's own era, whilst other characters in the painting (not shown here) are wearing traditional Biblical costume. The children occupy a strategic axis, being placed at the level of the viewer. I wonder if they were from Veronese's own family, or perhaps they were the children of a wealthy patron. Certainly they draw the eye away from the main action, creating a story within a story.

Portrait of a Little Dog

Portrait of a Little Dog by an anonymous 19th century artist. Posted on Wiki Commons by www.zeller.de/
Portrait of a Little Dog by an anonymous 19th century artist. Posted on Wiki Commons by www.zeller.de/

Portrait of a Little Dog

No-one knows who painted this cute 19th century portrait. The anonymous artist chose not to sign his work. However, lack of provenance shouldn't preclude this cute little dog from a home in this article. The artist has employed loose brushstrokes to suggest the dog's full and fluffy coat. She is obviously an adored pet, and has been given a decorative red tie around her neck to add to the appeal.

The Champion; Venus by Sir Edwin Landseer

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer - The Champion; Venus, a Landseer Newfoundland with a rabbit. Image posted to Wiki Commons by Sothebys Auctioneers
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer - The Champion; Venus, a Landseer Newfoundland with a rabbit. Image posted to Wiki Commons by Sothebys Auctioneers

Newfoundland dog with a rabbit by Sir Edwin Landseer

Another Landseer, and this time the subject is a beautifully painted Newfoundland dog holding a rabbit in his mouth. It is unclear whether he has caught the rabbit himself, or whether he has acted as a gun dog. He is poised with his right fore-foot raised as if waiting for the command to 'drop!'

The Victorians could be very sentimental about their animals, and wealthy patrons would often commission portraits of their favourites. Many castles and stately homes in Britain still have fine examples of this genre on display, and well-painted examples continue to be popular at auction today.

Bull Dogs by Vero Shaw, 1881

This original antique print is from the renowned "The Book of The Dog". Published in London in 1881 by Cassells. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
This original antique print is from the renowned "The Book of The Dog". Published in London in 1881 by Cassells. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

'Doon Brae' and 'Smasher'

This antique print is from "The Illustrated Book of The Dog". Published in London in 1881 by Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co. The dogs names given beneath the illustration are; 'Doon Brae', the property of Captain G.H. Holdsworth, and 'Smasher', the property of Mr Alfred Benjamin.

Vero Kemball Shaw was the author/illustrator of The Illustrated Book of the Dog (Assisted by the Leading Breeders of the Day). The book was originally published in parts from the years 1879 to 1881, and is sometimes referred to as Cassell's Book of the Dog. It is the largest work on dogs to be published in English in the 19th century, and is complete with coloured plates of celebrated show dogs. The twenty-eight coloured quarto plates of Shaw's great work portray most of the well-known breeds popular at that time.

Family Favourites by Arthur John Elsley

Family Favourites by Arthur John Elsley. Image courtesy Wiki Commons
Family Favourites by Arthur John Elsley. Image courtesy Wiki Commons

Victorian Family Favourites

If you want a good old-fashioned chocolate box style painting, then you should look no further than the works of Arthur Elsley. The Victorians adored this kind of sentimental composition, and Elseley's works continue to find favour to this day.

In the painting a large and fluffy St Bernard dog sits patiently whilst he is embraced by a small girl with golden hair and a pink sash. Two other equally cute children are playing with kittens nearby. The dog's expression is full of good-natured resignation.

Arthur Elseley was born in London in 1860, and studied at the Royal Academy schools from 1876. He was a very successful and prolific artist despite suffering from poor eye-sight as a result of an attack of measles in childhood. Between 1878 and 1927, Elseley exhibited 52 large canvases at the Royal Academy as well as numerous minor works at other venues country-wide. He died in 1952 at Tunbridge Wells in Kent.

Incredible morphing dogs in art!

The Dog Cart by Henriette Ronner-Knip

The Dog Cart by Henriette Ronner Knip. Courtesy Wiki Commons
The Dog Cart by Henriette Ronner Knip. Courtesy Wiki Commons

The Dog Cart by Henriette Ronner-Knip

It is very difficult to find a great deal of information about the Dutch artist Henriette Ronner-Knip (1821-1909), but one thing is certain. Her beautiful paintings of animals in general, and dogs and cats in particular, will ensure that she is remembered for many years to come.

The Dog Cart in this painting is being pulled by three very energetic and frisky mutts who all look as though they're enjoying themselves just as much as the small boy on the cart behind them. I wonder whether this was a common form of transport in Europe in the 19th century?

Detail from 'The Railway' by Edouard Manet

Detail from 'The Railway' by Edouard Manet. Painting is now in National Gallery of Art in Washington d.c. Image courtesy Wiki Commons
Detail from 'The Railway' by Edouard Manet. Painting is now in National Gallery of Art in Washington d.c. Image courtesy Wiki Commons

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

This charming detail from Edouard Manet's work, 'The Railway' shows a little puppy asleep on her mistresses' lap. With just a few simple brushstrokes, Manet suggests a warm, living creature slumbering peacefully.

Young Lady with a Bird and a Dog by John Singleton Copley 1767

Young Lady with a bird and a dog,by John Singleton Copley. Currently owned by Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.
Young Lady with a bird and a dog,by John Singleton Copley. Currently owned by Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons.

Young Lady with a bird and dog by John Singleton Copley 1767

John Singleton Copley (1738-1815) was an extraordinarily successful and prolific artist who rose from very humble origins. Born in the USA, probably in Boston, Copley's parents were Irish settlers who owned a tobacconist business. Copley's father died in the West Indies around the time of his son's birth, and his mother re-married, this time to Peter Pelham, who eked out a living as a painter, engraver and dance teacher. Copley learned the basics of his craft from his step-father, but the highly polished portraits which were to make his fortune were the result of a prodigious natural talent.

Having enjoyed great success in his native land, Copley later moved to London, England with his wife and family, and there continued to paint society portraits as well as other pleasing scenes such as 'A Young Lady With a Bird and a Dog'. The well-behaved black and white dog in this painting is looking on as his young mistress plays with a bird perched on a cord. I like the way his tail is raised as though in mid-wag, and his soft ears look real enough to stroke. 

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Comments 37 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

What terrible shame that painting with the dog where they don't even know the name. It is fantastic. You can see every heair of it and yet the painter never received the fame for it.


lmmartin profile image

lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida

A lovely article, particularly for this dog-lover. I wonder if you ever came across a work called 'Majesty and Impudence' -- one of my favorites, showing a regal Mastiff and an impish wire-haired, tiny rat terrier. I've only ever seen a print of it in a mastiff magazine. Perhaps in your research you may have come across it.

Thanks again for a lovely and touching hub. Lynda


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Hello, hello, I expect the artist was rewarded for his/her efforts at the time. It's just a pity the painting wasn't signed. Not all artists sign their work though, and as it's quite an old painting, the artist may not have been able to.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Lynda, I have a feeling I know the picture that you're talking about, but I can't find it on the net. I tend to use pictures from the free sites to save on correspondence, but that often means that I don't include the work of more contemporary artists. (Most images are free to use once the artist has been dead 70+ years.) I'll let you know by e-mail if I come across it elsewhere.

I published the hub in a bit of a hurry yesterday, so if you do check back in, you may find that I've added a few bits including a great video I found.


BrianS profile image

BrianS 6 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

I certainly don't know what life would be like without our best friend. He certainly gets us out for a walk every day. Nice hub.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Brian, you can't beat a dog for getting you out and about. All the dog-owners I know keep very fit walking their pets. Thanks for stopping by!


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

Some lovely art here. I know that those "choclate box" images are not popular these days but I love them


mason71collier profile image

mason71collier 6 years ago

These are beautiful portraits of dogs.

I have a yorkie and I must admit, I'm in love with her. I

think of her as my little sister. It's not only because she's the cutest dog ever. I really feel like she loves me as well. She always waiting for me to come back from where ever i am. And she starts crying as soon as the door closes. I wish i lived in a world where you can take your dog everywhere you go.


Bali Brasserie 6 years ago

Howdy!

I am foodoholic and content pieces relating to food,recipes,etc, interest me. But i was really amazed to see these dog pics and my excitement grew gradually as I scrolled down the page.Thanks for sharing these very rare pics.It proves the beautiful bonding between man and dogs.

Great Thanks!


amillar profile image

amillar 6 years ago from Scotland, UK

With faithful friends and art, The World can't be all-bad.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Mason, yorkies are certainly cute little dogs and it sounds as though you have a lot of fun together. It's amazing what a close bond we can form with our pets.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Bali Brasserie, thank you for stopping by and commenting. You've given me a whole new idea. Food in art! Hmm. I'll have to think about that one!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Amillar

it's always good to see a friend here, even if they don't have a wet nose and a waggy tail!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 6 years ago from India

What a great collection of dog paintings, Amanda! Loving dogs as I do makes it even more special. Loved that morphing of dog art in that video!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Shalini, the morphing dogs are great fun. That must have taken a lot of patience to put together. It's amazing what you can find on YouTube!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

I loved this, but it's no surprise, as I love dogs. I also very much enjoyed the descriptions of the paintings. I am fortunate to live near the National Dog Museum. I found myself in the neighborhood one day and went on a whim: I laughed, I cried. People to really get attached to their pets, especially dogs. Great paintings, great hub!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Christoph,I've never heard of the National Dog Museum. Does it have stuffed dogs, or just paintings and memorabilia? People certainly do get attached to their dogs. I know my parents always buried their much loved pets in the garden of our family home. I've often wondered what people will make of it in years to come when future generations are turning the garden into a vegetable patch!


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

Hi. It was mostly paintings by theme, also sculpture. Then they had quite a nice area all about war dogs. It was in this section that I teared up, the letters from the WWII soldiers writing back to the owners of the dogs to tell them that their dog had died saving the soldiers life. It was quite touching, and of course the art work was magnificent, though I suspect any of the real masterful paintings are in regular museums around the world, not at this museum, humble but nice and modern, built at Queeny State Park in Missouri. I don't recall seeing any stuffed dogs, except maybe in the gift shop. LOL


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

It's a long way from the UK, so I'll probably never get there, but it does sound like a sweet place to visit.


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Amanda, you are growing in your communication about these art pieces! I have always loved them, but this one is stellar. You have chosen the right word for the right moment and it is so easily read. I now love all of these paintings and feel connected to them via your descriptions. Thank you so much!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Barb, art gives me such a buzz, I'm always keen to share it. Sadly not everyone at home is as enthusiastic, so it's quite nice to come here and write about it. Thank you for your kind comments. It's always good to hear from you.


Leslie Rostro 6 years ago

I have an old painting of a girls loving a dog. The artist is Thomas Cray. I cannot find any information on him. I was hoping someone could help me. rostrolr@yahoo.com


theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 6 years ago from Holly, MI

These are just fabulous! I love the Newfoundland dog with the rabbit!!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi herbivorehippi, The Newfoundland is beautifully painted.I feel as though I could stroke that fluffy coat. It's also good to see a painting which is true to the nature of the animal. Thanks for stopping by.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

I really enjoyed this hub Amanda. The dogs that I've had over the years have all been my faithful friends, and I can remember some of these paintings from a book that was one of my treasured possessions when I was small. I am voting this one up plus giving it a beautiful. I am also bookmarking it as one of my favourites. I will be back later to read more of your work. Take care Amanda and keep them coming and I will keep on reading.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Eiddwen, I remember seeing the Arthur Elseley paintings in books and in prints quite a bit when I was younger. I don't think he is so popular these days, but fashions in art tend to go in cycles, so I'm sure the sentimental Victorian art will come back into vogue eventually.


sonia05 profile image

sonia05 5 years ago from india

great hub and lovely paintings!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi Sonia, thank you for stopping by and commenting.


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 5 years ago from North Carolina

OMG!Amanda when I saw your Art History, a shiver near went over me. Have never seen these before except for the Saint Bernard. Love 18th Cen. English art. Thanks, this hub was A-one as sure others are.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi Alastar, thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.


crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Creative work,thanks for sharing.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi Crystolite, thanks for stopping by and commenting.


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas

Lovely! I have a large portrait of an English Pointer in honor of my good dog, Freckles, who passed over the Rainbow Bridge several years ago. The "dog cart" picture looks like me and my 2 big dogs on our morning bike ride! I take my life in my hands every day! :D Voted up & beautiful! :)


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi Suzanne, you've conjured up a woderful image for me of you and your dogs bowling along at great speed! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

@Amanda Severn...What a lovely and informational Hub on art and the dog. These artists certainly captured the essence of man's best friend! It is not amazing that artists and musicians and writers have shared particularly fond relationships with domesticated companions -- creativity matched with creative loyalty.

Having owned a great, black, rescued female Newfoundland (pictured with me) who passed from my loving arms in 2009, I was drawn to the portrait of the Landseer Newfoundland, painted by his master of that name. Newfies are bright, lovable, and easily "trained", if they don't train you first in the ways of companionship, loyalty, and unconditional love.

But every dog lover's dog is his human's best friend. I've had many a canine companion, and if they are loved, they are to die for in commited friendship!

Love the Bulldog named "Smasher"!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 4 years ago from UK Author

Thank you for stopping by to comment, Barb. Dogs can certainly make great companions, and they are enormous fun, as long as they're well-treated and well-trained. Your Newfie looks adorable, and I'm sorry to hear that he's no longer with you.


Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

Barbsbitsnpieces 4 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

@Amanda Severn...Thanks for your condolences concerning Ebony. It was a load to bear, losing her.

But now I'm enjoying a happy continuing with Cee-Cee, whom I talk about and introduce in Part II Cee-Cee of my "Dogs in Our Lives" series.

I was so happy to learn that my health would not prevent me from having another dog and to find Cee-Cee the way I did. Another heart rescued, another heart restored.

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