Dogs were and are a popular motif in the visual arts. Especially in England, but also in America, they held a special position.
Dogs as a popular motif for visual arts in England
In England, dogs have been man’s faithful and best companion for centuries. In the late 17th century, purebred dogs were the exclusive preserve of wealthy landowners and nobility. They were often depicted as companions in individual and family portraits.
In the 18th century, they gradually became the actual motif of art and represented the pride of the owner. It wasn’t her performance that mattered here, but her looks. Various races stood out in these depictions. Greyhounds, Mastiffs, King Charles Spaniels, Pugs, Bulldogs, Bull Terriers, Foxhounds, Beagles, and French Hounds were particularly popular.
In the transition to the 19th century, a more scientific approach to animal husbandry emerged in England. The selective breeding of dogs to “improve” the population was widespread in aristocratic circles. Dogs were now used more and more in sports. Pointers and setters were added to the popular breeds.
In addition to depictions of hunting and sporting dogs, there were now also portraits of purebred dogs and pet portraits.
Especially in the reign of Queen Victoria, the dog increased in English painting. Her fondness for dogs and dog breeding had a major impact on her understanding of art. Many dog breeds were imported into England under her and found a place in portraits. Breeds such as Collie, Newfoundland, St. Bernard, and Great Dane became more popular.
But her penchant for pet portraits, in which she could have her dogs in her immediate environment, is also reflected in the general taste in art.
The artist Sir Edwin Landseer in particular gained importance through the influence of Queen Victoria and her passion for collecting his works.
Transition to the 20th century
The theme of the dog in art became a topic of general public interest. Dog shows and articles about dogs by famous people sparked interest.
Parallel to the development in England, a handful of artists in America who emigrated from Europe specialized in portraying dogs. They brought their style of painting with them from Europe and continued their tradition in America.
Dogs for visual arts in America
In contrast to England, however, the popularity of dogs in America was not based on the taste of the royal family. There was no monarchy or aristocracy here. Wealthy public figures, such as Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, influenced popular tastes and thus influenced the dog in art.