Christina here. I’ve always been a dog lover so when I finally had some of my own, I wanted them immortalised in a painting. This was the result and I love it! Turns out I’m not the only dog owner with that idea though …
Last week I went to see an exhibition at the Wallace Collection in London which was all about dog portraits. It is the first ever exhibition to explore our wonderful relationship with dogs through art. Right up my street and I wasn’t disappointed! The first sign showed a quote which I totally agree with:-
“The Dog is the most faithful Animal in the World, and beloved by Men.” (Iconologia or Moral Emblems, by Caesar Ripa, English Translation 1709)
Canines have, of course, been our companions since ancient times when they were first domesticated. Their immense capacity for love and devotion have made them cherished companions. Dog owners have been honouring their pets in art from as far back as Roman times (probably longer). The Romans rendered them in mosaics, frescoes and gorgeous marble statues like this one. It’s called “The Townley Greyhounds” and was discovered just outside Rome by an archaeologist, brought to England and sold to Charles Townley. Later it was donated to the British Museum. It’s so incredibly lifelike!
When it comes to drawings, no one can beat Leonardo Da Vinci. Like other Renaissance men, he was fascinated by the natural world and drew whatever he saw from life. His sketches of a dog’s paw are amazing – there was one in the exhibition – and you see the exact texture of the fur.
Aristocrats often included dogs in their portraits, but it wasn’t until the 16th century that some of the canines got to star in their own. Most were working dogs like those used for hunting or guarding, but some that were merely companions were also depicted. Dog portraits became really popular in 18th century Britain, and one of the foremost artists was George Stubbs. He created some superb portraits, including the following:-
“Turk, a Dog belonging to the Duke of Rutland” 1778 – Said to be one of the 4th Duke of Rutland’s favourite dogs, who was perhaps a Keeshond or some other similar breed. The way Stubbs has painted the fur is wonderful!
While the men had their hunting dogs and other large breeds, the ladies preferred lapdogs, like this so called Havanese. They were apparently very popular in 18th century France where Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress, had quite a few little pooches.
Stubbs also painted Lady Sarah Archer’s Maltese terrier, another lapdog which has (unfortunately in my opinion) had it’s fur cut off to the waist. It’s a lovely little dog though!
Pugs were beloved, cute and mischievous, although they didn’t look anything like pugs do today. They were the perfect pet for someone who didn’t want too much exercise. Even so, I always think of the one in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park where I seem to remember poor Fanny had to walk this very spoiled pet when her hypochondriac aunt couldn’t possibly manage it herself. The artist and satirist William Hogarth had one called Trump (yes, really!), and he often painted him. There was even a porcelain figure made of him by the Chelsea Porcelain Factory in 1747-50 after a model by the French sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac.
In 1860 Queen Victoria was gifted a Pekinese called Looty by John Hart Dunne. The dog’s name alluded to the fact that he’d been taken (stolen?) from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing when it was looted by the British and French. This made others want dogs of the same breed and they became sought after. Douglas Murray, an explorer, smuggled some out of China in 1896, and officially they were said to be the ones to establish the breed in the UK, although there were clearly others before them.
This beautiful little one, called Kylin, was probably related to those brought over by Murray, as he was owned by his niece Lady Ellen Thomas-Stanford. Definitely my favourite painting in this exhibition!
To me it’s weird to see these referred to as Pekinese as they look more like today’s Tibetan spaniels, which is the type of dog I had. The breed has evolved and they are now two separate breeds – these days a Pekinese looks quite different, at least here in the UK. I have this old photo I found at an antique fair which seems to be from the late 19th century and shows “The Hon. Mrs McLaren Morrison’s Thibet Spaniels”, so perhaps they were recognised as two breeds already then?
As owners, we often ascribe human emotions and reactions to our dogs, and some artists took that one step further. They used dogs in allegorical paintings, substituting them for people from literature and myth. Edwin Landseer was one such, and he was very successful in this genre. Personally, I didn’t like those as much as the straight portraits, but to each his own. Either way, Landseer was a brilliant artist and the canines in his paintings are very lifelike. I love how he’s portrayed a Saluki in this one – it’s beautiful!
And here are some lovely King Charles spaniels – named after Charles II of course.
Lots of famous people had dogs who became well-known. There was no portrait of Prince Rupert’s large poodle Boy in the exhibition, nor Lord Byron’s Newfoundland dog Boatswain (for whom he wrote an epitaph), but another of Byron’s dogs was shown. Supposedly a wolfhound (although he looks very odd to me!), he was called Lyon and must have been well-liked by his owner.
Queen Victoria was a huge dog lover in general and had lots of different breeds, some of whom were immortalised on canvas. She and her husband Prince Albert were also artists in their own right, and often sketched and painted their canine companions. They even took lessons from famous artists of the day, including Landseer. Here’s her watercolour of her two dachshunds. Very cute!
Do you have proper paintings or other types of artwork of your beloved pets, or do you keep special photos of them around? And do you like any of the paintings above?