Achieving Balance and Harmony


600 years of dogs in art

His Station and Four Aces by C.M. Coolidge, 1903.

By Michael Barmish

In honor of Inspire Your Heart with Art Day on January 31, we take a look at seven famous works of art that feature our furry four-legged friends.

When people think of famous works of art featuring canines, “Dogs Playing Poker” tends to come to mind. What has become “cheesy” art along the lines of the Velvet Elvis was once a series of sixteen paintings by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge that were originally commissioned for an advertising campaign for cigars, two of which sold for a combined amount of nearly $600,000 several years ago. Think of that the next time you see a print of one of the paintings in someone’s “man cave.”

But dogs have been the subject or part of fine works of art throughout the ages. Whether the subject is hunting, heroism, or companionship, dogs have inspired great artists. Let’s create a virtual art gallery by highlighting seven of the more famous pieces:

  • A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society: this 1831 oil painting by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802 – 1873) is part of the world-famous Tate collection. Landseer was known for using animals as his canvas subjects and this one of “Bob,” who was credited with saving twenty-three people from drowning at the London waterfront and later became a member of the Royal Humane Society, currently hangs at the Kennel Club Art Gallery in London.

  • The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami: This painting by Flemish artist Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441) hangs in the National Gallery of London. It captures the wedding of an Italian merchant to another merchant’s daughter. The small terrier that stands at their feet symbolizes companionship, faithfulness and love.

    By the way, if you look closely at the mirror in the background, you can see a self-portrait of the artist painting the picture of the couple. Hidden visual “Easter eggs” like this were very common in Dutch paintings of the time.

  • Hachikō: This sculpture by Japanese sculptor Takeshi Ando (1923 – ) stands in front of the Shibuya train station in Tokyo is actually the second such sculpture. After the original one was erected in 1934, it was recycled for the war effort and was remade by Ando, the original artist’s son, in 1948.

    Hachikō, an Akita, greeted his owner at the Shibuya station every day at the same time. When his owner died, the dog continued to show up at the station every day for the next nine years. The statue is, today, a well-known meeting place.

  • A King Charles Spaniel: Edouard Manet’s (1832 – 1883) 1866 painting is displayed at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. One in a series of dog portraits by the renowned impressionist, this piece stands out as being the first of the series by a decade and the only one that Manet himself exhibited.

  • Madame Renoir with a Dog: and Luncheon of the Boating Party: These are just two examples of paintings by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841 – 1919), who featured small dogs in many of his works. Madame Renoir With a Dog was painted in1880, while Luncheon of the Boating Party was painted the following year.

  • Boy and Girl Gazing at the Moon: Many of Norman Rockwell’s (1894 – 1978) paintings depict kids with dogs, this one (1926) being one of the more famous pieces. Children and dogs are a common theme in Rockwell’s captures of suburban family life, culminating with his covers for Boys’ Life magazine.

  • Night Sleeper: one of the more recent famous pieces is this soothing work from American painter Andrew Wyeth (1917 – 2009), which he painted in 1979. Wyeth was inspired to create the work after seeing his dog, Nel, asleep one night. “Night Sleeper” is currently on display at the Brandywine River Museum near Philadelphia.

Next time you visit an art gallery or museum, take a look at the paintings or sculptures with dogs and imagine what inspired the artist to include a dog in the piece. It will give you a new perspective on the message.

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