Dogs in Art

Dogs in Art

Diego Velázquez (6th June 1599 – August 6th 1660)

Dwarf with a Dog – 1645 (Oil on canvas)

Widely regarded as the foremost artist of the Spanish Golden Age, Velázquez was a contemporary of the Baroque period, who painted everything from portraiture of the ruling classes to scenes of religious significance. However, most of his work tends to steer away from the use of animals as subject matter and as a result makes this piece even more interesting. The placement of both dwarf and dog side by side, alludes to the implicit notion of hierachy; whereas kings, queens and princes would have situated themselves alone, here the dwarf is depicted feet-level to that of the dog indicating not only their agreeable status but also demonstrating the actual size of the sitter. Furthermore, by dressing him in lavish, almost regalic attire, Velázquez alludes to the artistic concept of juxtapositioning a figure of high social status with an inferior. Yet, regardless of the luxurious nature of his garments, both man (or in this case, dwarf) and dog stand equal – implying their similarity in societal terms.

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (7th March 1802 – 1st October 1873)

A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society – 1831 (Oil on canvas)

Landseer was an English painter from the Victorian era who’s primary focus was the depiction of animals. Although best known for his lion sculptures that inhabit Trafalagar Square he became well accustomed to drawing and painting dogs from all aspects of society. His father, Benjamin Haydon had initially introduced him to painting animals by encouraging Landseer to perform his own dissections, in order to gain a full understanding of a creatures musculature and skeletal structure. The internal, scientific knowledge he subsequently acquired resulted in huge commercial and critical acclaim that saw him unrivalled in the depiction of animals. The painting depicted above shows a Newfoundland by the name of Bob, who having been found in a shipwreck off the English coast became famous for saving people from drowning. Having made his way to London’s waterfront he embarked upon saving 23 lives over the course of 14 years. In appreciation, Bob was made a distinguished member of the Royal Humane Society and rewarded with a medal and access to food.

The darkened, rather eerie backdrop to the painting not only outlines Bob’s size and stature – thus projecting him with the hero like qualities for which he was commemorated – but also shows the threatening nature of the rescues he undertook. The painting was attributed by The Art Journal as one of ‘the best and most interesting publications of the year’ as his work managed to combine Victorian notions of childhood and its perilousness, with the idea of noble animals devoted to humankind. So influential were his paintings of dogs in service, ‘Landseer’ became the official breed name of the specific Newfoundland depicted above with its combination of both white and black fur.

Pablo Picasso (25th October 1881 – 8th April 1973)

Dog – 1957 (Ink sketch)

Possibly better known for his fondness of women, Picasso should also be remembered for his love of animals, in particular dogs. As was his approach to his female counterparts, Picasso would often borrow, or steal dogs from his friends, the most famous of which can be seen in this sketch, depicting a Dachsund he affectionately named ‘Lump’ (the German word for ‘rascal’). Lump did infact belong to a friend of Picasso’s, photographer David Douglas Duncan who upon visting the artists Canne residence, saw the instant connection they constructed thus deciding to leave the aforementioned pup in Picasso’s caring hands. Picasso was immediately concerned that Duncan had not properly introduced Lump to the many pleasures of life. While his efforts to find Lump a wife proved unsuccessful, he did manage to introduce the young dachshund to his first rabbit, cut from a candy box, which he instantly destroyed! Picasso took inspiration from his four-legged friend, depicting him in numerous situations as well as this quick, stylized sketch pictured beside, which shows how with one stroke of ink Picasso is able to represent Lump in an instantly recognisable form, as animal, dog and Dachshund. Their relationship was one of such emotional proximity, that both photographic exhibitions and written accounts were created in their honour till in April 1973, Lump sadly passed, only 10 days before Picasso. 


Lucian Freud (8th December 1922 – 20th July 2011)

Double Portrait – 1985-86 (Oil on canvas)

Freud too was known of his affection for both women and dogs. He owned a number of dogs, most famously his pet whippet Pluto who he acquired in 1988. The painting alongside depicts a female friend of Freud’s and her whippet-like dog, a breed that became immensely popular in working areas of the North-West and the Midlands half way through the 19th century, increasing in their popularity since. Most-commonly known for their high energy levels, here Freud depicts the dog strewn across her owner; (they are also known for being lazy for large portions of the day – especially in winter due to their short haired coats). Again, like Picasso, Freud also drew much inspiration from dogs in his work. In conversation with curator William Feaver he once stated how impressed he was with their “lack of arrogance, their ready eagerness and their animal pragmatism” stating also, the extent to which they had impacted his portrayal of humans beings: “I like people to look as natural and as physically at ease as animals, as Pluto my whippet”.


Andy Warhol (6th August 1928 – 22nd February 1987)

Portrait of Maurice – 1976 (Synthetic polymer paint & silkscreen ink on canvas)

An enthusiastic cat owner, it wasn’t until the early 1970’s when Warhol’s then boyfriend, Jed Johnson, persuaded him to get a dog. Subsequently, Warhol went out and bought a little brown haired Dachshund called Archie, becoming instantly infatuated with the pup. Filmmaker, Vincent Fremont recalls the early stages of their relationship, he told of how “Andy took Archie to his studio, to art openings, and Ballato’s Restaurant on Houston Street […] Archie was always on Andy’s lap, eating bits of food that he was handed [and] was always carefully hidden under Andy’s napkin just case a restaurant health inspector would happen to come by”. Archie was always referred to as Warhol’s alter-ego, allowing his pet to entertain questions at press conferences that he himself would rather not answer. The portrait alongside is infact of another dog by the name of Maurice, belonging to one of Warhol’s art collecting friends, Gabrielle Keiller. What is so instantly striking about the image is its human, anthropomorphic qualities such as its size and the placement of the dog within the composition. The dog looks straight down the centre of the portrait as if posing for a photograph and the hallucinogenic qualities with which it has been printed give it a vibrant, energetic almost kinetic quality.

Images courtesy of Art Journal (Gombach)



George Welsby

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