The Dog in Art: England and the Continent
By Lisa Thomas
Man’s best friend has long been a popular subject in painting in Europe and has seen a recent resurgence in interest among collectors on both sides of the pond. In late-Nineteenth Century England, Germany and France, pure-bred dog owners collected paintings of their breed in the same way that horse fanciers collected equestrian portraits. Some dog painting collectors put together collections specific to a breed that helped establish the breeding standards and programs that became popular after the establishment of the Kennel Club in Britain in 1873. Other collectors commissioned portraits of their dogs to hang alongside portraits of the family. From this period there emerged three different types of dog painting: the pet portrait, the sporting dog portrait, and the pure-bred portrait.
As early as the 17th Century, royal families commissioned paintings that included portraits of their pet dogs in a domestic environment, often doing tricks or begging at table. The rising merchant classes in Northern Europe followed suit, creating a popular genre and status symbol of their new-found wealth.
The sporting dog portrait also existed in the Seventeenth Century, and with increased interest in dogs in general, it flourished in 19th Century England where the Kennel Club organized sporting trials and field sports. The sporting dog portrait emphasizes the performance of the dog in the field rather than its appeal as a pet, much in the way that horse portraits do. The market for sporting dog paintings increased as the leisure class grew and it remains an area of collecting today.
The pure-bred dog portrait originated in the Nineteenth Century with the establishment of breed standards and the showing of pure-bred dogs as sport. These portraits were meant to highlight the perfection of the dog’s breeding which resulted in the convention of painting the dog in profile, facing left, its head turned slightly towards the viewer, much like a portrait of a human sitter.
Throughout Europe in the Nineteenth Century, artists painted dogs in a similar fashion, but the social and economic history of each country influenced Dog Painting in a different way. In France, for example, hunting with hounds remained popular and many French sporting paintings depict breeds of hunting dogs that are not seen in English paintings. In Belgium, the attitude towards dogs was much different than elsewhere in Europe and this can be seen in their dog paintings. Here dogs were seen as working animals, or beasts of burden, and were used to haul heavy loads (cart dogs) for merchants and for the military. England outlawed the use of “beasts of burden” in 1855 but Belgium continued to use dogs this way into the Twentieth Century.
Pure-bred dog portraits existed in all the European countries but the breeds depicted differed from place to place. There were French and German breeds that were unknown in England yet long-established and rendered in paintings in Northern Europe. France has twenty-eight pure-bred hounds that are distinct to its country and are still used in the hunt today. Some of these breeds were unknown outside of France until recently, most notably the Basset Griffon Vendeen which was recently imported to America.
Artists in 19th Century Europe traveled and were influenced by the work of other artists and artistic developments in other countries. The world of Dog Painting was no different. There were artists who specialized in painting animals, and artists who painted in many genres including the genres of sporting and dog portraits. Some of the most recognized artists who painted dogs include Sir Edwin Landseer in England, the Belgian artist Eugene-Joseph Verboeckhoven, Rosa Bonheur and Gustave Courbet in France, and Henriette Ronner-Knip in Holland.
We will be offering a large and varied selection of paintings and drawings of dogs in our June 27th Fine Auction, including:
- Lot 355: English School: Portrait of a Dog
- English School: Portrait of a Girl and Her Dog
- Lot 353: English School: A Girl and Her Dog
- Lot 369: English School: Portrait of a Dog
- Lot 354: English School: Pair of Field Spaniels
- Lot 357: Robert Alexander (1840-1923): Portrait of a Malamute, Esquimaux, Elkhound
- Lot 362: 20th Century School: Portrait of a Cocker Spaniel
- Lot 363: Kathleen (Kay) Nixon (1895-1988): Dachshunds Tona and Pindi Poo
- Lot 364: Florence Mabel Hollams (1877-1963): Dragon
- Lot 365: Elizabeth MacKay: Hounds
- Lot 366: 20th Century School: Pomeranian
- Lot 367: Frank Prosser: Cumber Spaniel Jop
- Lot 369: English School: Portrait of a Dog
- Lot 370: Marguerite Kirmse (1885-1954): The Mouse Hole; Merry Christmas; and Chow Chow
- Lot 371: Howard L. Hastings: Portrait of a Lakeland Welsh Terrier
- Lot 372: Beatrice M. White (1908-1995): Chummy
- Lot 373: Jean Herblet (1893-1985): Portrait of a Springer Spaniel
- Secord, William, Dog Painting The European Breeds, Antique Collectors Club, Ltd., 2000.