A Cosmopolitan Connection
Taxidermy was at its peak in the Victorian era; few homes would have been without at least one cased example. By the post-World War II years, it was out of vogue, so much so that stuffed animals, birds and fish were thrown out in their countless hundreds.
Move forward many years, and interior decorators and designers latched on to them, and suddenly taxidermy is back in vogue. Stuffed dogs never had the appeal that other animals did, probably because they were too personal to the person who had them stuffed. That attitude has changed, particularly if there is a story attached to the dog in question.
This was the case with a white Pomeranian puppy standing on a red cushion in a glazed display case sold by Mendip Auction Rooms for £3,100 against an estimate of just £250-350. Below the puppy was a brass plaque engraved “Fairy Born Sept 1st 1930 – Died Feby 3rd 1931.” “Fairy” was said to be the smallest dog in Bristol – quite possibly so, as she was only five months old when she died – and was bred by a Miss Wells of College Green, Bristol. She lived with a menagerie of animals, many of whom were stuffed and donated to Bristol Museum on her death.
While interest in taxidermy has fluctuated, there has always been a core group of collectors and historians interested in anything military, particularly where war was concerned.
Dominic Winter sold a copy of “Hark! Hark! The Dogs do Bark!” a satirical map of Europe at the outset of World War I in 1914 for £1,100. Most of the principal nations are played by dogs. The British Bulldog bites the nose of the German Dachshund, watched by the French Poodle, who snarls aggressively at the approaching Dachshund. Russia is shown as a bear running alongside a steamroller driven by Tsar Nicholas II about to crush the Austrian mongrel. Above them all, a traditional John Bull character dressed as a British sailor holds the strings of the blockading Royal Navy.
The title takes its name from an old English nursery rhyme that has its roots, depending on which of four authorities one accepts, in the 13th Century, when wandering minstrels were commonplace, to 1688, when William of Orange brought Dutch followers to England.
There is an extensive text written by British attorney and humor writer Walter Emanuel that begins with the line “Dachshund that is thought to have gone mad,” and in the concluding paragraph: “Peace has gone to the dogs for the present until a satisfactory muzzle has been found for the Dachshund.”
During World War I, Dachshunds, once a favorite breed of Queen Victoria, were vilified by much of the British population to the extent that some were stoned in the streets.
In Britain, at least, sporting pictures that show the hunt are not in demand like they once were, particularly if there is a kill involved. One example is the otter hunt featured that was sold by Sotheby’s Gleneagles sale in Scotland, where it realized £18,000. Twenty-one years later, Halls sold the same picture for £11,500, which, taking into consideration the value of the pound then and now, is a considerable drop.
The subject is a pack of Otterhounds and two Hunt Terriers following a scent along a river running through a wooded landscape with a huntsman following. Painted by Walter Hunt in 1912, it captures all the immediacy of the moment.
Hunt was from an artistic family, and he specialized in animal subjects, particularly farmyard scenes, but also sporting subjects. He exhibited several paintings of otter hunting at the Royal Academy, but this picture is not thought to have been one them.
Parker Fine Art Auctions always include a small section of paintings by modern Russian artists, many of whom are attracted to Russia’s native dog, the Borzoi. In their latest sale, they included a picture by Konstantin Razumov, an artist born in Zarinsk in 1974 and who studied at the Academy of Arts in Moscow. He is known for his impressionistic, highly detailed work and his use of light and color, all of which have combined to create a charming picture of a young ballet dancer with her kitten and Borzoi, who is quietly watching over her. It sold for £1,400.
Parker’s sold for £130 an unusual but very attractive and loosely painted portrait of two Irish Setters in an extensive landscape, the whole subject being lit by a sky illuminated by the setting sun. It was painted by Sara Westralia Hall, who was born in 1895 and studied at the Royal Academy from July 1916 to February 1922.
It is not always necessary to spend large sums of money on art; often works by established artists can be bought for very little. Two such examples, both by Samuel Howitt, were sold recently; a watercolour sketch of two Foxhounds for £180 and one of a terrier for £70.
Howitt was active as an artist toward the end of the 18th Century and early years of the 19th Century. He was from an old Nottinghamshire Quaker family, and he devoted his early adult life to field sports, but through financial necessity was obliged to turn to art as a profession. He was a prolific painter, illustrator and etcher.
His work was not “fine art” and may not have been a totally accurate representation of the subject; nevertheless, he is important for being one of the artists to give us an idea of what breeds looked like in those far-off days. The terrier is interesting as it is identical to one in an engraving by Thomas Bewick, but the backgrounds are very different. Howitt has the dog nonchalantly standing by a fence, Bewick with a working scenario of two terrier men and two terriers drawing a badger in the background.