Kangaroos, bears, eagles, lions, cows – many countries have national animals, but very few have a national dog, Turkey with the Kangal being one of the exceptions. However, there are some countries where dogs have been used to make political statements, or represent national identity or independence, mostly in times of conflict.
Virtually all these countries have been European, with France being represented by two breeds, the Poodle and French Bulldog.
At the end of the 19th Century, the corded trim was popular for Poodles, and this carried over just into the 20th Century. In the Entente Cordiale postcard it is a black-corded dog that represents France and the Bulldog, Britain. Without displaying any national pride myself, the Bulldog, more so than any other breed, has become the best known of all patriotic dogs.
The Entente Cordiale was a series of formal political agreements signed in 1904 between the United Kingdom and the French Republic that saw a significant improvement in Anglo-French relations and settled more immediate disputes over Egypt, Morocco and elsewhere in Africa.
In 1904 the French Bulldog was not the established breed it soon became, but in the years following it became symbolic of France. Lilian Cheviot’s “United We Guard” shows the French Bulldog and the Bulldog united in defiance of any planned invasion on the two nations. The dogs sit beside a rifle and a military overcoat.
Cheviot’s output of patriotic pictures is evidence that she used her art to help boost morale. She had established her reputation as an animal and equestrian painter, was a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy, and like so many animal painters of the age had studied at Frank Calderon’s School of Animal Painting. Her dogs were always boldly painted and very expressive.
“Come over Here,” a print of which was recently sold by Parker Fine Art Auctions for £35, shows a Bulldog for England, a Scottish Terrier for Scotland and an Irish Terrier for Ireland, one of the countries of the Union that is not usually represented. At the time the picture was painted, around the years of World War I, Ireland was still a part of the United Kingdom. The intense expressions of the Scottie and Irish would leave any intruders in no doubt that they would be met with a strong challenge.
Whenever the United Kingdom was involved in any conflict the English Channel, the 20-mile stretch of water between England and France presented a challenge to any invading forces and some protection to Britain. Cheviot’s “Wake up England,” a Bulldog asleep on the Union Jack with the Channel beyond, presents a rallying call to the British nation that the country should never drop its guard.
A similar theme of guarding the coastline is shown with the Bulldog standing firm at the water’s edge with cliffs beyond. “We Stand Firm” is an unusual and early work by Henry Crowther, who established his reputation as a painter of winners in the show ring. His style was usually a close-up head study or a dog in profile in an extensive landscape.
Maud Earl is universally regarded as one of the finest British painters of purebred dogs. “The Allies” is a rare patriotic piece by her, and it displays in each dog her rare ability and style that secured her reputation. The Allies were formed as a force against the Ottoman Empire and comprised a number of European countries, Japan and the United States.
The picture was commissioned by “The Illustrated London News” as a supplement in 1815. The Allies in the picture are the Borzoi for Russia, Bulldog for the United Kingdom, Japanese Chin, Griffon Bruxellois and French Bulldog. At the time it was painted, Italy had not joined the Allies.
The Griffon had the advantage of patronage from the Belgium royal family. It is possibly due to their personal interest and breeding program that Griffons survived in Belgium during World War I.
Every once in a while an artist not normally associated with painting dogs, or indeed animals, produces a work that becomes symbolic within their output. Such is the case with Alvar Cawen, one of Finland’s leading artists.
World War I affected Finland greatly, and like all other countries, its artists were equally affected. In Finland this gave rise to a group of artists who became known as the “November Group,” of which Cawen was a member. In character they were to a great extent strongly national, and this painting reflects Cawen’s nationalistic feelings.
Artists in other countries looked to dogs as symbols of patriotism, so it was perhaps natural for Cawen to do the same. The Finnish Stovare and the Finnish Spitz were obvious choices. In a country where hunting and sport did not have the social barriers to the extent of many other countries, the two breeds represented a way of life for the whole nation.
Painted in 1920, Cawen’s piece made much use of white and the light focusing on in an otherwise sombre painting to express a feeling of hope in a dark postwar world.
In the early years of the 20th Century, some animaliers sculpted groups featuring a Bulldog and French Bulldog, but we will never know if they were done to show the difference between the two breeds or the solidarity between the two nations that was building at the time.
We do know the rationale behind the rather crudely modelled sitting French Bulldogs on badly colored bases made by one of the premier porcelain manufacturers in Europe, Sèvres. They were made during the German occupation of France during World War II, the Germans insisting that the factory remain open and produce pottery. In an act of defiance, they produced a French Bulldog as a statement of allegiance to the French nation. Such models are now rare and are great patriotic pieces from one of France’s most troubled periods in history.