An Opulent Aesthetic
Close on the heels of the “Nothing but a Hound Dog” sale with dog art in the “bargain basement” and “collectable” range came Christie’s “The Opulent Aesthetic: An Important Private Collection from an English Country House” with dog pictures on the opposite end of the spectrum.
In a sale of some 264 lots, 34 were dog related, and had been put together by a true lover of dog art — rarely found in the U.K. — rather than a breed-specific collector. Following the sale, Adrian Hume-Sayer, Christies director, head of sale, commented: “Dog paintings were a favorite amongst the sporting art in this anonymous sale. Together they provided what could be viewed as a mini-collection within the overall collection. Having been much admired in the lead-up to the sale, they were very well received on the day, sparking competitive bidding, as the strong prices realized illustrate.”
Leading the dog pictures at £302,400, the top end of the estimate, was Richard Ansdell’s well-known large canvas “The Wounded Hound,” which he painted in 1847 for his friend James Eden, who lived near Ansdell at Lytham. The price realized was somewhat less than the £478,000 it allegedly sold for in 2006, also at Christies, when it was the most expensive picture by Ansdell sold at auction.
The picture was the centerpiece in the collection of dog pictures surrounded by smaller ones. It showed a Highland ghillie kneeling and squeezing a rag over a pail, tending to a hound with a bandaged foreleg. A young girl watches on anxiously as a Deerhound lifts its head and howls.
Continuing the Scottish theme, George Earl’s study of a rarely seen today drop-eared Skye Terrier in an extensive mountainous landscape sold within estimate for £5,292.
Earl was one of the leading dog artists of the 19th Century whose output was prolific. He is best known for his series of portrait head studies of dogs he did for “Champion Dogs of England” and the mythical “The Field Trial Meeting,” in which he grouped all the leading sporting gentleman of the age and their dogs together at Bala in Mid Wales.
Arthur Wardle is one of Britain’s best-known painters of purebred dogs. He had little formal training, but, in common with many other artists, studied the animals at London Zoo. His output of Fox Terriers at rabbit warrens was legion, but he also completed many other paintings of sporting dogs. His painting of a yellow and black Labrador in a field sold above estimate at £13,860. It was painted for the well-known Porritt family from Bradford and passed through the family by descent until 2007, when it was sold by Sotheby’s.
There are some artists without whose work we would have little idea how some breeds looked at the time they were evolving. One of these is Edwin Loder of Bath, who was painting in the middle years of the 19th Century. Although he painted a number of animals, his dog paintings were many and predominately Bull Terriers, Black and Tan Terriers, and the long-extinct White English Terrier, painted at a time when these were becoming established as separate identifiable breeds. The pair of pictures sold by Christie’s was typical of many he painted, and it sold over estimate for £2,268.
Sophie Sperlich was a 19th-Century German artist well known in Germany. Her career was cut short, as she was just 43 when she died. Her paintings are detailed and well observed and very much in the same style as Henriette Ronner-Knip. She was a popular artist, painting dogs and in particular cats. German and Austrian artists working at this time were the masters at portraying Dachshunds, and Sophie Sperlich was no exception. Her portrait of a black and tan in a landscape well exceeded expectations to sell for £7,560.
The market is very strong for Continental artists working in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their dog pictures are well observed, beautifully executed and usually have a strong narrative.
Dutch-born artist Henriette Ronner-Knip became known as the “Queen of Cat Painters,” but when living in Belgium, where draught dogs were a common sight, she completed many draught-dog pictures, at times showing the plight of many of them. She exhibited her work extensively and had many important patrons, including the King of Portugal and the Prince of Wales.
Against a top estimate of £10,000, her picture of a Toy Spaniel and her litter of puppies with a Greyhound in the background standing in front of an impressive gatehouse sold for £23,940.
French-born artist Rosa Bonheur was of Jewish origin and had a colourful background, including being expelled from school and failing an apprenticeship. She was encouraged in art by her artist-father, who taught her. She studied animals by bringing live ones to the family studio and visiting the abattoirs of Paris. Her most famous work, the monumental “The Horse Fair,” was completed in 1855 and is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On a lesser scale is her study of two French hounds, the most likely breed being Grand Griffon Vendéen, which was sold in the artist’s studio sale at the Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, in 1900, the year following her death. At Christie’s it doubled its top estimate, finding a new home for £13,850.
The sale, which totalled £4,790,640, opened with pair of bronze over-life-sized, well-muscled Pointers that sat on either side a doorway at the vendor’s home. They set the tone for the sale, selling over double the top estimate for £16,387.