Companions in Art
Around 3,000 BC, when humans began living in somewhat permanent dwellings instead of being nomadic, the role of dogs as companions evolved. This appears to have happened simultaneously throughout the world in several cradles of early civilizations. Certainly, the first documented companion dogs came from China and Tibet. But as other countries developed their own cultures, sea trading meant that companion dogs spread farther afield.
This feature is a selection of nine pictures of breeds that have established their position as comforters, companions and “man’s best friend.”
In 16th-Century Europe, small breeds of dogs began to evolve into breeds that we today know as the Bichon Frise, Maltese, Havanese, Coton de Tulear and Papillon. The best known of these early-evolving breeds was the Toy Spaniel, which Dr. Johannes Caius, writing in 1570, called “Spaniel Gentle or Comforter.” Caius wrote: “These dogs are little, pretty and fine. They are sought to satisfy the delicatenesses of dainty dames, and wanton women’s wiles, instruments of folly for them to play and dally with, to trifle away the treasures of time, to withdraw their minds from more commendable exercises, and to content and gratify their corrupted senses in a vain attempt to amuse themselves.”
In 1833, the Duchess of Kent was given a small Toy Spaniel, which she named “Dash,” by Sir John Conroy. By the end of April of that year, Dash had become the companion of her daughter Victoria (later to become Queen Victoria). Victoria had few if any childhood friends, as she was raised largely isolated from other children, so Dash was her closest childhood companion. He was the first in a long line of beloved little dogs owned by the Queen.
Dash featured in many royal commissions, the best known being a head study by Sir Edwin Landseer. As a direct result, the popularity of these Toy Spaniels — which became the King Charles Spaniel (English Toy Spaniel in America) and much later the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel — was secured. Dash’s image was copied in many mediums, and the simple Victorian needlework of the dog sitting on a crimson cushion sold for £200.
As a direct result of Dash, pictures of Toy Spaniels became among the most popular of canine subjects in Victorian art. Many were painted by naive provincial artists, some being of particularly high quality, one example being the head study of the Blenheim wearing a brass collar that sold for £1,100.
The Poodle has a long history as a companion dog, one of the earliest records being of “Boy” (also “Boye”) in the 17th Century. Boy was a gift from the Earl of Arundel to Prince Rupert of the Rhine, who, at the time, was imprisoned in the Fortress of Linz during the Thirty Years War. Boy became Rupert’s constant companion, and when Rupert came to England to fight on the Royalist side during the English Civil War, Boy came with him. He accompanied his master into battle and was killed at the Battle of Marston Moor on the July 2, 1644.
The pencil drawing is of a Poodle named “Lion,” the pet of the Duke of York, second son of King George III. It was sold by Woolley and Wallis, finding a new home for £650, over double the top estimate. It was drawn by Henry Bernard Chalon (1770-1849), son of a Dutch émigré who was appointed animal painter to both the Duke of York’s wife, Frederica, and King William IV. It had once been in the collection of Rupert Hambro of the banking dynasty and his American-born wife Robin, former model and Vogue editor.
Another breed with a long history intertwined with European royalty and Freemasonry is the Pug. The particularly well-observed portrait of a fawn Pug sitting wearing a collar with medallions attached was sold by Tennants for an above estimate £500. It had earlier appeared in Christie’s “Sporting Art, Wildlife and Dogs” sale in November 2007, and then it achieved £1,375. It was painted by the German artist Anton Weinberger (1843-1912), whose commissions included dog portraits at the Vienna Royal Court.
The Miniature Pinscher has been bred down from the heavier-bodied vermin dog. As a breed it was first officially recognized in Germany in 1895, arriving in the States in the early 1920s and England much later. The portrait of the attractive little dog named “Souris” sitting beside a rose was painted by the French painter, illustrator and animal sculptor Vimar Auguste (1851-1916) and achieved a mid-estimate £380 at Tennants.
Also sold by Tennants were two paintings of Japanese Chins, a breed that rarely appears at auction. They were painted by the fairly prolific dog artist Elizabeth Marion Nelson (fl. 1890-1930), about whom little is known. Her chief patron in the dog world was Mrs. Winifred Charlesworth of the famous Normanby Golden Retrievers, whose efforts did much to establish the breed in the early years of the 20th Century.
The Japanese Chin lying on a dusky-pink upholstered chair with matching bow inscribed “Kobeomer” and dated 1923 sold for £300 against a top estimate of £150, and the dog sitting beside a ball and wearing a blue bow painted circa 1916 sold for £550, its top estimate being £300.
Reuben Ward Binks (1880-1950) travelled extensively, and few other dog artists gathered around them the patrons Binks did — King George V, Countess Howe, the Maharaja Dhiraj of Patiala and in the States the Hallock du Ponts and Mrs. Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge. There was a time — when two serious collectors of his gundog pictures vied with each other to build their collections — that his gundog pictures outsold his other work.
Not so well known for his Toy dogs, the attractive portrait of a Pekingese sold for £680. Comparing this dog with the breed today one can fully appreciate how breeding for show coat has changed this breed’s image and indeed many others.
Born in England of American parents, Lillian Tiffany (1900-1967) spent most of her life in the States. She began sketching animals at a young age and today is remembered for her illustrative work. She drew each of the breeds recognized by the America Kennel Club, and many appeared on the cover of The American Kennel Club Gazette.
Prices at auction for her work vary enormously, and this drawing of a Schipperke when it appeared at auction in 2004 sold for £150. Completed in 1940, the dog portrayed is Ch. Trilene and shown with trophies for Best of Breed won at the NWKC show.