A Visit to the Sales Rooms
When Bonhams in London held their specialist sales of dog art and ephemera, they called on me to help with appraising breeds. And although I say it myself, their catalog descriptions were always breed accurate.
With collectors and historians researching online by breed name, a correct appraisal can make all the difference when it comes to results in the saleroom. With dog pictures, and probably other specialist subjects as well, subject matter can often influence prices realized as much as the quality and execution of the painting can.
With there being a multitude of breeds, many of which have changed through selective breeding for certain points over time, one cannot always expect general catalogers to get it right. The late toy-dog bibliophile and historian, Clarice Waud, always fumed when she saw 19th-Century pictures cataloged as “Cavalier King Charles Spaniels,” sometimes by galleries that should have known better, when a breed of that name did not exist then.
Such a case in point of poor cataloguing occurred recently in Ireland when Aidan Foley Auctioneers sold a particularly well-observed Irish provincial-school head study of an Irish Water Spaniel of the period. It was catalogued simply as a 19th-Century picture of a dog with an estimate of just Euros 40-60 and sold for a mere Euros 110. Irish Water Spaniel collectors got to know about the picture after the event and would have paid considerably more.
Another case, this time with an incorrect breed description – although it sold particularly well, way above its top estimate of £800 for £1,300 – was a particularly fine painting of a Clumber Spaniel beside a dead cock pheasant. Catalogued as a “Welsh Spaniel,” probably because of the color, it was painted circa 1860 by Edward Robert Physick, whose animal studies included a few other dog pictures. The Clumber fits in comfortably with others of the period so well illustrated in James Darley’s recently published “Rebirth of the Royal Spaniel: The Clumber Spaniel.”
It was sold by Parker Fine Art Auctions, whose sales always seem to manage to include a few dog pictures, and the recent sale was no exception.
Another that went above estimate, also selling for £1,300, was Thierry Poncelet’s “Portrait of a Collie Lady.” Belgium artist Poncelet bought old family portraits in flea markets and antique shops, then overpainted the heads with the head of a dog, choosing with his obvious unique humor the head of a breed he considered appropriate to the sitter’s clothes and situation. “Aristochiens” – instant ancestry with a difference!
For collectors with limited means, there were bargains to be had at Parkers. A charming watercolor by Kay Nixon of a Dachshund sitting among bluebells sold for £90, an oil of a German Shepherd Dog’s head by Gerald Gadd sold for £100 and a pastel of a sitting Pekingese puppy by Leslie Harries, who created mostly still-life pictures of flowers, realized £140.
Kay Nixon was a member of the Society of Women Artists and was principally a wildlife artist and illustrator of books, including those written by children’s author Enid Blyton. The Dachshund in the picture is probably Nixon’s pet, as she owned the breed. She trained as an illustrator at the Birmingham School of Art and in 1928 went to India, where she spent many years producing illustrations, including animal and bird posters for the railways of India. Nixon also became an artist for the Times of India and the Bombay Weekly.
Gerald Gadd was an artist from Oswestry on the Mid Wales/England border, and although he worked in oil he was predominantly a painter in watercolor. He is best known for his landscapes of Shropshire and the mountain ranges of North Wales. The oil of the German Shepherd was probably a special commission. He exhibited his work regularly at a number of galleries and was a member of the Pastel Society, British Society of Painters and the British Watercolour Society.
One should always keep an open mind when looking at dog portraiture, in particular portraits that have been commissioned by successful breeders and exhibitors. There are two things one should always consider: style of the chosen artist – I have seen pictures by Maud Earl, John Emms and Arthur Wardle of the same dog, and each artist had their individual “take” on the dog – and the desire of the person commissioning the picture to have the subject looking as near perfect as possible.
One of the best-known pictures of Fox Terriers was painted by Arthur Wardle: the Totteridge XI, owned by Francis Redmond. Both the Kennel Club in London and the America Kennel Club own copies, the original being the one in London. There is a letter in their archives written by Redmond to Wardle requesting alterations to a few of the dogs so they looked as near breed-standard perfect as possible.
The picture of five Fox Terriers, very much in the style of Emms and Wardle, sold for £2,000. Unsigned, it had the appearance of having been cut down from a much larger picture.
I mentioned recently a historically important North American frontier painting that was being auctioned by Bonhams. Executed in 1828, when the Swiss-born artist Peter Rindisbacher was 18, “A Gentleman Travelling in a Dog Cariole in Hudson’s Bay with an Indian Guide” showed the traditional mode of transport in the artist’s adopted country. Its appearance at auction generated a lot of interest, and it sold for nearly double its top estimate for £112,750.
Rindisbacher painted scenes of life on the North American frontier, including views of native peoples that have become an important historical record of the vanishing way of life brought about by the Europeans that occurred in this period and subsequently.