Puppy Love: Dog Paintings in Western Art

Presenting a selection of dog paintings and drawings this week, we couldn't help but be tempted to write a feature on dogs in art. With Bonhams holding an annual, record breaking sale 'Dogs in Show and Field' catering to a niche market of canine art enthusiasts, what is all the fuss about?

Man’s relationship with dogs has long been unique among the interactions between human and animal – dogs providing not only loyalty and companionship, but our choice of dog reflecting our taste and announcing to the world what kind of person we are.

This affection is not new, and there is evidence of dogs being important in visual representations as far back as cave paintings and stylised drawings from ancient Egypt, Mexico and China. In these early depictions dogs had roles as hunters or guardians, or were creatures connected to mythology or religion.

Dogs abound in art from the Renaissance onwards. Initially appearing as background motifs or beside their masters in portraits, from the late 15th century onwards dog portraits in their own right began to become popular among the among the European ruling families.

The 17th and 18th centuries saw dog portraits boom, with pets moving from the yard to the parlour and becoming ever more beloved. Interestingly, the Enlightenment is credited as playing an important part in man’s evolving attitude towards pets, as new scientific thinking promoted greater understanding of and empathy with the pain felt by animals.

In Britain Queen Victoria’s love of certain breeds, including Dachshunds, Pomeranians and the Scottish Deerhound, influenced the popularity of dogs as pets amongst the general populace.

Through the 20th century - modernism and postmodernism – artists’ affection for canine subjects has not wavered, seen in the works of Picasso, Andy Warhol and David Hockney.

Here is our very own top 10 list of dog paintings in Western art, where precious pups take centre stage. What would yours be?

 

10

A Fox Terrier by Samuel Fulton (1855-1941)

The appeal of Scottish artist Samuel Fulton's understated dog portraits is just that: in lowly settings among barrels and straw in barns and stables, his dogs are elevated in their dignity and poise. Fulton's sensitive brushwork shows influence of his better-known Scottish acquaintances E.A. Walton, Sir James Guthrie, and Joseph Crawhall. 

Samuel Fulton A Jack Russell

 

9

Dogs Playing Poker, 1903 by C.M. Coolidge

From a series of sixteen paintings commissioned in 1903 by Brown & Bigelow to advertise cigars, these now famously kitsch canine canvases provoke feelings of love and hate in equal measure. But their commercial appeal is undeniable: in 2005 a pair sold for whopping $590,400 to an anonymous bidder.

Dogs Playing Poker by C.M. Coolidge

 

8

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, 1831 by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

The real-life subject of this imposing portrait was as impressive as the painting itself. Stray Newfoundland dog “Bob” has had an enduring connection with water, from being found in a shipwreck off the coast of England, to becoming celebrated for life-saving in London’s docklands. In 1928 the painting itself then fell victim to a flood, only be restored in 2009.

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

  

7

Head of Bloodhound, 1880 by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

This surprising painting by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, known for his studies of life in Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge, captures so perfectly the character of this hound. And we have a soft spot for hounds, with this graphite drawing of a basset.

 Head of Bloodhound by Toulouse Lautrec

 

6

His Master’s Voice, 1898 by Francis Barraud

The subject, composition and title so happily unite here, that it is hard not to love this striking portrait. Painted by Francis Barraud three years after the death of his dog, this image of Nipper listening intently to a wind-up Edison-Bell cylinder phonograph has become world famous as trademark branding for a range of companies Victor and HMV record labels, HMV music stores, the Radio Corporation of America and Berliner.

His Master's Voice by Francis Barraud

 

5

The Drowning Dog by Francisco de Goya

Painted directly on the walls of Goya's home, this mural is part collection of works that have become known as the Black Paintings, due to their dark pigmentation and sombre mood. This enigmatic image of a dog in an undefined space, looking up at something indeterminate, has been said to be related to the notion of the inevitability of death. 

The Dog by Goya

 

4

Stanley and Boodgie, 1993 by David Hockney

Hockney has said about his beloved daschshunds: ""They are a wonderful subject - two little creatures that you love. I was painting a lot of big [abstract] pictures at the same time, internal worlds. These are the external world because it was the one immediately in front of me. I rather enjoyed that contrast." This painting emanates comfort on every level - the oversized cushion, bright joyous colours and contently sleeping pups. And for many artists painting dogs is an extension of this - the simplicity and comfort of painting a loyal friend.

Dachshund by David Hockney

 

3

A Sleeping Dog With Terracotta Pot, 1650 by Gerrit Dou 

This exquisite oil painting is all the more charming for its small-scale: approximately 21 x 16 cm. It is thought to be inspired by Rembrant's drawing and etching of a "Sleeping Watchdog" and "Sleeping Puppy", from when Gerrit Dou worked in the workshop of the older master. The stark and considered composition majestically turns sleeping dog into elegant still life.

Sleeping Dog by Gerrit Dou

 

2

Master Bedroom, 1965 by Andrew Wyeth  

Andrew Wyeth is best known for his stark Realist depictions of his native New England. At first the sleeping dog seems incidental in this scene, camouflaged on the white bedding, our eyes initially drawn to the striking central window. And it is this tension which becomes the power of the piece: whilst the window hints of the light-filled world beyond, it is the peaceful inner world of sleeping dog that draws our heart.
Andrew Wyeth Master's Bedroom

1

Pug Dog in an Armchair, 1857 by Alfred de Dreux

In honour of our resident Somerset & Wood pug, our final pick is Alfred de Dreux's humorous depiction of an overindulged pug dog in an armchair. Whilst the dogs in this painting are not explicitly anthropomorphised, the pose and props hint at a narrative that can but make us smile. 
Pug Dog in an Armchair by Alfred de Dreux