This one’s for dog and art-lovers everywhere, as well as the cat people yet to be converted. We went for walkies through our Collection and found a pack of misfit mutts, and perfect pooches depicted by artists across the centuries. Here is a selection showing that today’s obsession with cute dog pics has its roots in art history.
It doesn’t get much cuter than a dog and a child having a cuddle. This etching is by the Italian-English 18th-century artist, Maria Cosway, and was based on a drawing by her husband Richard, a miniaturist. The little boy and the dog seem to coalesce as he wraps his arms around his beloved friend. The bond between the two is strong; the child is completely comfortable in the presence of his pet, who is almost as big as he is.
A moping mutt keeps watch over the day’s catch, the fish lying nearby on the sand. John Frederick Lewis made this preparatory sketch for a painting commissioned by a wealthy patron. The dog is a Newfoundland, a breed popular among elite social circles in the early 19th century. Let’s just hope he’s been a good boy and gets a share of the fish – that’d give him a waggly tail!
Dogs will do anything for a treat, right? Turns out three-headed dogs are no different. This simple drawing by John Gibson was made in 1843 and shows the beautiful mortal Psyche (soon-to-be wife of Eros) taming Cerberus, the three-headed dog who guards the Underworld. According to Greek mythology, Psyche used a crescent-shaped honey cake to distract the hound, slipping past him into the Underworld to complete a mission set by Aphrodite, the goddess of love. You’d think she’d need a few more cakes to keep all those mouths happy.
Now this is a seriously good boy. This verse and illustration are from a book published in 1900, filled with simple poems and drawings about animals to help young children learn to read. While the poem isn’t quite Shakespeare, it holds a lot of truth. Dogs really do love unconditionally, no matter how bad our jokes might be. We love the contrast between the prim owner wearing a monocle and his bullish hound with the studded-collar. So maybe not all dogs resemble their owners, after all.
You can almost hear the despair in the dog’s howl as he cries over the body of his master, killed in battle. The hopelessness of the scene is exacerbated by the stormy skies retreating endlessly into the background, with not a soul in sight. We can only hope that this poor stray is picked up by the medieval branch of the RSPCA.
The dog strains and pulls against his collar, testing the grip of his master, the hunter. The sculptor John Gibson captures the power of both man and beast at the moment before they enter the hunt. With his raised tail, arched back and snarling teeth, this is a hound who is thirsting for the chase.
Many of us have fond memories of a favourite pet from childhood. These can form lasting impressions and stay with us for life. The artist Sonia Lawson made this lithograph at a part-time art class she attended when her daughter started school. Although not depicting a specific person or pet, the artwork recalls seeing her mother’s friend Rosemary stroking an old dog. The animal’s upward-tilting head shows his appreciation of the attention, imploring Rosemary to keep making a fuss of him.
This set of still photographs was taken by Eadweard Muybridge, a pioneer of early photography. In 1877-8, Muybridge produced hundreds of series of photographs showing animals in motion, a project supported by the University of Pennsylvania. Here, a white racing hound called Maggie is captured at full throttle. Through such visual dissections of movement, Muybridge revealed the potential of new photographic technology to contribute to arts and sciences alike. His investigations into “animal locomotion” gave insights into animal physiology and paved the way for early cinematography. A serious top dog.
We’ve all tried to take a picture with a fluffy friend and just before you’ve got the perfect snap they’ve wriggled out and escaped. Imagine trying to get a dog to sit still for a painting. Former President of the RA, Sir Francis Grant, clearly succeeded in this depiction of his daughter Elizabeth with the family pooch. Famous for his paintings of the royals and high society, this portrait show’s a more intimate side to Grant’s work – encapsulating the harmony between a girl and her beloved lapdog.
This is an illustration from a book of nonsense limericks – we’ll let the poem do the talking.