Every Picture Tells a Story
There is a narrative to be read in virtually every picture: Most portraits will give the viewer an insight in the sitter’s feeling and thoughts, and especially with portraits of dogs and other animals the eyes can often say so much.
The three artists whose work I have chosen are masters at storytelling in their art.
Animal cartoonist Arthur Boris Klein was born in 1893 in Russia, where his family, who were natives of the Alsace region of France, were living at the time. It was there with its birch-tree forests and solitude that he had the opportunity to observe the animals that would ultimately influence his art. He became an accomplished sportsman and athlete with an impressive physique, but his real passion was for hunting and guns.
He served on behalf of the French in World War I, but was seriously injured, which left him with a limp for the rest of his life. In his youth he attended art school in Moscow but had a series of jobs before becoming a professional artist using the multi-ethnic name “Boris O’Klein.” He moved to Paris, where he settled comfortably into the Bohemian lifestyle of the city.
His output was prolific and he produced many watercolors, but the greatest part of his work consisted of prints, either color lithographs or engravings with hand-painted touches of watercolor.
To the artist himself, his art was all a huge joke. He observed the often everyday of life, then put his own twist on it. Just two of the countless cartoons he produced are the Fox Terrier bemused at the sight of a horse with a nose bag, while the dog itself wears its muzzle as a chastity belt, and a sportsman out shooting, his pointer retrieving to hand the spaniel rather than the quarry.
O’Klein, though, will forever be remembered for his “Dirty Dogs of Paris” prints — dogs lined up, all waiting to urinate against a wall beside a tree — or the male-female flirtation in which a number of male dogs follow a female with an air of evident interest.
There are sayings that slip into our vocabulary and are used without even a thought as to where or when they originated, or even by whom, a somewhat risqué example being “Come up and see my etchings sometime.” This expression was first coined by Louis Icart, an artist whose work is synonymous with etchings and the Art Deco period.
Icart was born in France in 1888, and before the first World War worked as a fashion designer. His art became very much an extension of his fashion design, and he mastered the art of dry-point and line-etching, for which he is still renowned to this day.
By the early 1920s, he had become established as an artist and was exhibiting work in New York as well as his native France. His pictures won many prizes. He also worked as an illustrator, and works illustrated by Icart include Collete’s “L’ingenue Libertine” and Goethe’s “Faust.”
His work had universal appeal and is characterized by idealized women of great beauty and grace, elegantly draped and portrayed in a light sensual manner. French poet Pierre Louӱs is known as a writer who sought to “express pagan sensuality with stylistic perfection,” and he is said to have been the inspiration behind Icart’s portrayal of elegant women, for which his wife Fanny acted as model.
Many breeds that one sees in other forms from the Art Deco period appear in Icart’s etchings. Icart took these breeds and portrayed them in his own inimitable way. The Greyhound was a breed that reigned supreme in art of the Art Deco period, and in “Premier Coursing,” an etching from 1910, an ethereal model restrains two hounds about to be slipped.
“Two Beauties,” an etching with dry-point and color from circa 1931, is one of Icart’s larger etchings.
Victoria Coleman was brought up with Dachshunds and chickens so, from an early age she developed a great love for all animals, and it is their character and human-like qualities that she attempts to capture in her work.
She works from a studio overlooking the World Heritage Ironbridge Gorge, which witnessed the birth of the Industrial Age and was one time dotted with furnaces burning day and night. Today the area is a great tourist attraction.
To get to where she is today, Coleman has walked a diversely creative path. After achieving a degree in metalwork and jewelry, she began what she calls “a long career in the fabulous world of prop making.” There she learned many skills, making costume props for exciting films like “Star Wars” and “Gladiators,” dead bodies for “Band of Brothers” and painting fiberglass Disney characters to go in their flagship stores around the world.
Despite enjoying the work and the security prop-making gave her, there was a desire to move on. She started her own business making quirky soft furnishings using her own designs and creations. However, her love of painting and the necessity to pay bills overcame her enjoyment of textiles, and she began to concentrate solely on painting and more recently on paper clay sculpting.
With the companionship of her Dachshunds and English Springer Spaniel, Coleman creates portraits of dogs, many of which have human characteristics, like the French Bulldog dressed for a party (see top of story), the Chihuahua treating itself to a celebration drink, or the Beagle quite happy to lie down comfortably on the best chair in the house.