Dogs in art

Captivating images of dogs created by artists through the ages

by Edel Cassidy
Words Edel Cassidy

Every dog lover knows that nothing compares to the unconditional love offered by our precious four-legged friends. But have our beloved pooches always been our best friends? The answer is yes! And the proof of our affection for dogs is well documented in the history of art.

From ancient times artists have shown their admiration and respect for canines by drawing, painting and sculpting their likenesses. These charming works of art offer a historical perspective on our valued relationship with this much-cherished animal.

His Master’s Voice

1898, Francis Barraud. Oil on Canvas.

One of the best-known trademarks in the world comes from this painting by the English artist Francis Barraud (pictured above). When his first master Mark Barraud died, the featured dog, a terrier named Nipper, went to live with Mark’s younger brothers, Francis and Phillip. 

Francis also inherited a cylinder phonograph and recordings of Mark’s voice and noticed how puzzled Nipper was when he heard the recorded voice of his late master. The scene must have been indelibly printed in Barraud’s mind because it was three years after Nipper’s death that he decided to paint the curious little dog staring into the phonograph.

William Barry Owen, the American founder of the Gramophone Company in England, offered to purchase the painting on the condition that Barraud modify it to show one of their disc machines. Barraud was paid £50 for the painting and a further £50 for the copyright.  

Miss Beatrice Townsend

1882, John Singer Sargent
Collection of Mr and Mrs Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Oil on Canvas 

The subject’s father, Mr John Joseph Townsend, was a politician and a New York attorney, and her mother, Catherine Rebecca Bronson, was a close friend to the artist. 

This is one of John Singer Sargent’s earliest portraits and children continued to appear frequently in his paintings throughout his career. He liked to create the impression of individuality, through the pose, lighting, and setting, in addition to the facial expression of his young sitters. He sought to portray them as unique personalities rather than as visual stereotypes of childhood. 

In this portrait, he brings out great detail of the subject’s individuality by including her favourite pet, which she clutches to the side. He captures the self-possession and confidence of the young girl as she gazes at the artist directly. Sadly, only two years after this painting was completed, Beatrice died of peritonitis at age fourteen.

Art by Anthony van Dyke depicting the five eldest children of Charles I and two dogs

Five Eldest Children of Charles I

1637, Anthony van Dyck
Queen’s Gallery, Windsor Castle
Oil on Canvas 

The five children of Charles I are shown left to right: Princess Mary, James, Duke of York (later James II), Prince Charles (later Charles II), Princess Elizabeth and, in her sister’s lap, Princess Anne. In this wonderful piece of art, the future Charles II rests his hand on the head of an enormous mastiff, one of two dogs depicted. The mastiff had been a guard dog since Roman times and appears here as a protector for the royal children at a time of civil unrest. Nonetheless, the position of the young Prince’s hand suggests that he is capable of ruling this powerful beast and, by implication, his country. There is also a small ‘King Charles’ spaniel at the right. This was an immensely popular composition and was copied many times. Van Dyck’s relatively informal group of royal children contrasts markedly with the stiff, formal portraits of a generation earlier…

  • ‘Dogs in art’ is published in Anthology Volume 16. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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