Pup Art: Pets Throughout Art History

For who knows how long, dogs have been referred to as man’s best friend and though this certainly holds true, I would say the same applies to other furry creatures as well, such as cats, rabbits, guinea pigs etc. I began thinking about our four legged as well as winged friends after returning from a trip home when my boisterous and mischevious black cat, Loki (he lives up to his name), greeted me with loud meows accompanied by frenzied purring, it seemed he missed me while I was gone, or maybe he was just hungry…but either way I knew I had missed him, antics and all. For those who have a pet or have ever owned a pet, whatever species or breed they may be, know what it is like to have a constant companion who always greets you, in a way, with a “smile.” About 10,000 years ago dogs became one of the first domesticated animals and by 3500 B.C. cats became a household pet in Egypt. Undoubtedly the longest lasting trend, that won’t be ending anytime soon; pets have not only become ingrained into our cultural history, but have been immortalized by the artist as well. When one first thinks of dog paintings, something similar to the amusingly kitsch painting from the film Goodfellas may come to mind, but contrary to this perception some of the most avant-garde artists such as Picasso have chosen to depict their canine counterparts.

As we take a look throughout art history there is an overwhelming presence of pets in painting, an early example is the infamous Arnolfini Portrait circa 1434 where a fluffy little fella stands in the foreground. Though Fido could definitely be overlooked in this painting, he becomes both a symbol of loyalty and a reflection of wealth and courtly status, as he is merely a companion lap dog versus a working dog. It was during the Middle Ages when dogs and cats began being treated as pets as we know them today, bringing them into the home and allowing them to live amongst the family, however this was limited to the upper classes who could afford to feed an extra mouth.

Jan van Eyck, "The Arnolfini Portrait," 1434, oil on panel
Jan van Eyck, “The Arnolfini Portrait,” 1434, oil on panel

It was not until the mid-1800’s, in light of the industrial revolution and burgeoning middle class, that a larger demographic could afford a household pet. At this point owning pets, especially birds, became all the rage. In addition, commissioned portraits accompanied by your dog, cat, or bird also became a popular practice as one can see many examples all throughout the 19th century. At even greater lengths, the pets at times had their own portrait painted exemplified below with this hilarious portrait of a pug who indeed looks like a grumpy old socialite propped up in an armchair, it may be a comment on the bourgeois or may be just the mark of an enthusiastic owner? Regardless, pets remained a pertinent subject to painters in both commissioned portraits and not.

Alfred de Dreux, "Pug Dog in an Armchair," 1857, oil on canvas
Alfred de Dreux, “Pug Dog in an Armchair,” 1857, oil on canvas

Probably one of the most iconic examples of a pet appearing in an uncommissioned portrait is in Andrew Wyeth’s Master Bedroom, which depicts a little pup curled up on a bed snoozing the day away. It is a portrayal of the everyday dog in an everyday American home, man’s best friend at his very best.

Andrew Wyeth, "Master Bedroom," 1965
Andrew Wyeth, “Master Bedroom,” 1965

Today the “dog portrait,” lives on as contemporary painter Judy Henn cleverly pays homage to some of the great painters in her whimsical dog portraits such as in this David Hockney inspired piece below.

Judy Henn, "July"
Judy Henn, “July”
David Hockney, "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)," 1971
David Hockney, “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures),” 1971

It is no surprise that pets can be seen in paintings throughout history, as painting served as a form of documentation of life before the camera, and it is also no surprise that they continue to serve as an artistic muse as pets are a signifier of prosperity, humanity, and civilization; we undeniably love them and they love us back, unconditionally. These kind of portrayals of the everyday still appeal to audiences as Norman Rockwell’s painting of early 20th century Americana, dog and all, sold at Sotheby’s on Wednesday May 22nd for a cool $2.6 million dollars…Yes, paintings of pets tend to suggest sentimentality and nostalgia, but they also hold a stoic poignancy, they are a steadfast element of our lives and will forever remain so.

Norman Rockwell, "He's Going to be Taller Than Dad," 1939
Norman Rockwell, “He’s Going to be Taller Than Dad,” 1939

Layman and artist alike have recognized the importance of these fluffy, furry, and at times frisky critters. So let’s celebrate them with a timeline of 500 years of pets in painting, from commissioned portraits of Middle Age royalty to the surprising, yet punchy dog paintings by George W. Bush, it’s all here, the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between…now sit, stay, and look!

Lucas Cranach, "Portraits of Henry the Pious, Duke of Saxony and his wife Katharina von Mecklenburg," 1514
Lucas Cranach, “Portraits of Henry the Pious, Duke of Saxony and his wife Katharina von Mecklenburg,” 1514
Portrait of Queen Katharine of Aragon with her Pet Monkey, 1530's
Portrait of Queen Katharine of Aragon with her Pet Monkey, 1530’s
A Spaniel (after Paolo Veronese), late 1580's
A Spaniel (after Paolo Veronese), late 1580’s

Tommaso Salini, "Boy Playing with a Cat," 17th Century

Tommaso Salini, “Boy Playing with a Cat,” 17th Century

Joshua Reynolds, "Kitty Fisher," 1763-64, oil on canvas
Joshua Reynolds, “Kitty Fisher,” 1763-64, oil on canvas
Joseph Wright of Derby, "Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight," 1769, oil on canvas
Joseph Wright of Derby, “Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight,” 1769, oil on canvas
Jean-Honore Fragonard, "Girl with a Dog," 1770
Jean-Honore Fragonard, “Girl with a Dog,” 1770
Joshua Reynolds, "Portrait of Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester," 1774, oil on canvas
Joshua Reynolds, “Portrait of Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester,” 1774, oil on canvas
Louis Bonnet, 1775
Louis Bonnet, 1775
Henriette Ronner-Knip, "Among Ourselves," 19th Century
Henriette Ronner-Knip, “Among Ourselves,” 19th Century
Henry Raeburn, "Boy and Rabbit," 1814, oil on canvas
Henry Raeburn, “Boy and Rabbit,” 1814, oil on canvas
Ammi Phillips, "Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog," 1830 - 35
Ammi Phillips, “Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog,” 1830 – 35
Edwin Henry Landseer, "A Favorite Greyhound of Prince Albert," 1841
Edwin Henry Landseer, “A Favorite Greyhound of Prince Albert,” 1841
Claude Monet, "Camille with a Small Dog," 1866
Claude Monet, “Camille with a Small Dog,” 1866
Edouard Manet, "La Femme au perroquet," 1866
Edouard Manet, “La Femme au perroquet,” 1866
James Jacques Joseph Tissot, "The Fireplace," 1869
James Jacques Joseph Tissot, “The Fireplace,” 1869
Guillaume Dubufe, "Un regal pour son animal de compagnie," (A treat for her pet) 1871, oil on canvas
Guillaume Dubufe, “Un regal pour son animal de compagnie,” (A treat for her pet) 1871, oil on canvas
Anna Merritt, "Portrait de Minna Sophia Farrer tenant un lapin," 1878, oil on panel
Anna Merritt, “Portrait de Minna Sophia Farrer tenant un lapin,” 1878, oil on panel
Eastman Johnson, "Child with a Rabbit," 1879
Eastman Johnson, “Child with a Rabbit,” 1879
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, "Margot," 1881, oil on canvas
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Margot,” 1881, oil on canvas
Paul Gauguin, "Stilleben mit drei Hundchen," (Still life with three little dogs) 1888
Paul Gauguin, “Stilleben mit drei Hundchen,” (Still life with three little dogs) 1888
Rupert Bunny, "Portrait of the Artist's Wife," 1902
Rupert Bunny, “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife,” 1902
"How to Hold Pets," from Boy Scouts: 5th series, 1903-1917
“How to Hold Pets,” from Boy Scouts: 5th series, 1903-1917
Giacomo Balla, "Dynanism of a Dog on a Leash," 1912
Giacomo Balla, “Dynanism of a Dog on a Leash,” 1912
Fernand Khnopff, "Mary von Stuck," 1916
Fernand Khnopff, “Mary von Stuck,” 1916
John Duncan, "Baba and Billy," 1920
John Duncan, “Baba and Billy,” 1920
Pierre Bonnard, "Woman with Dog," 1922
Pierre Bonnard, “Woman with Dog,” 1922
Adolf Dietrich, "A Gentleman," 1928
Adolf Dietrich, “A Gentleman,” 1928
Jean Dupas, "Woman with Stole," 1929
Jean Dupas, “Woman with Stole,” 1929
Edvard Munch, "Dog's head by a red tree," 1930's
Edvard Munch, “Dog’s head by a red tree,” 1930’s
Arthur Heyer, "A Bulldog with White Persian Cat," 1931
Arthur Heyer, “A Bulldog with White Persian Cat,” 1931
Suzanne Valadon, "Andre Utter and His Dogs," 1932
Suzanne Valadon, “Andre Utter and His Dogs,” 1932
Milton Avery, "The Green Settee," 1943
Milton Avery, “The Green Settee,” 1943
Morris Hirschfield, "Girl with Angora Cat," 1944
Morris Hirschfield, “Girl with Angora Cat,” 1944
Herbert James Gunn, "Pauline in the Yellow Dress," 1944
Herbert James Gunn, “Pauline in the Yellow Dress,” 1944
Loe Saalborn, "Woman with a Cat," 1950
Loe Saalborn, “Woman with a Cat,” 1950
Felice Casorati, "Nude Before a Mirror," 1955
Felice Casorati, “Nude Before a Mirror,” 1955
Edwin Roscoe Shrader, "Dog Sleeping," Mid-20th century
Edwin Roscoe Shrader, “Dog Sleeping,” Mid-20th century
Francis Bacon, "Man with Dog," 1953
Francis Bacon, “Man with Dog,” 1953
Pablo Picasso, "Woman with Dog Under a Tree," 1961
Pablo Picasso, “Woman with Dog Under a Tree,” 1961
Jack Potter, 1960's
Jack Potter, 1960’s
Brian T. Kershinsnik, "She Reads," 1962
Brian T. Kershinsnik, “She Reads,” 1962
Will Barnet, "Woman Reading," 1970
Will Barnet, “Woman Reading,” 1970
Alice Neel, "Victoria and the Cat," 1980
Alice Neel, “Victoria and the Cat,” 1980
Theodorus Gerardus l'Herminez, "Vrouw met kat," 1984
Theodorus Gerardus l’Herminez, “Vrouw met kat,” 1984
Lucian Freud, "Double Portrait," 1988-1990, oil on canvas
Lucian Freud, “Double Portrait,” 1988-1990, oil on canvas
Luisa Popenko, "Girl With a Dog," 2006
Luisa Popenko, “Girl With a Dog,” 2006
Fatima Ronquillo, "Woman with Injured Cat," 2007, oil on panel
Fatima Ronquillo, “Woman with Injured Cat,” 2007, oil on panel
Sara Vanderbeek, "Otis, Ike, Werner and Lu," 2009, oil on wood
Sara Vanderbeek, “Otis, Ike, Werner and Lu,” 2009, oil on wood
Kate Pugsley, "Inside Voices," 2011, oil on board
Kate Pugsley, “Inside Voices,” 2011, oil on board
Jamie Wyeth, "Dog and the Great White Shark Jaw," 2011
Jamie Wyeth, “Dog and the Great White Shark Jaw,” 2011
Former U.S. President George W. Bush's portrait of his dog Barney, 2013
Former U.S. President George W. Bush’s portrait of his dog Barney, 2013

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