A Portrait of Man's Best Friend - Dogs in Paintings and Art
Goodnight by Arthur Elsely
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! 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
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 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
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
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
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
'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
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
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
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 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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