Sketch of the Artists in Artful Canines

Alfred de Dreux

French, 1810– 1860 (49 years)

Born into a privileged family, Alfred de Dreux, son of an award-winning architect, was encouraged to paint by his family and horses became his favorite subject. His first exhibition in Paris won him immediate fame and earned him a reputation among collectors and critics alike. Discarding a fashionable status as a portraitist, he concentrated on equestrian painting and developed a marked taste for depicting racing dogs often found alongside a horse. He went on to paint both a now famous series of horses, and the Duke who owned them. These so impressed King Louis-Philippe of France he invited
de Dreux on a trip to England where the passion for horses and fox-hunting earned him many commissions from the English aristocracy. He was taken in by both French and British nobility who appreciated the elegance of his works. His trips deepened his study of animal paintings and he developed an affinity for painting purebred dogs. He undoubtedly knew the works of artist Edwin Landseer as similarities are seen in his works. Landseer is best known for a lifelike and stately style. De Dreux's use of dramatic lighting and exquisite detail to capture a real sense of presence of his subjects is seen in the painting Pug Dog in an Armchair of unknown commission or inspiration. Rumored colorfully to have been killed in a duel over a disputed commission, de Dreux actually died of a liver disease.

 

Pug Dog in an Armchair, painted in 1857 sits for viewing
at the Hermitage Museum / St Petersburg, Russia.

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Philip Reinagle

English, 1749– 1833 (84 years)

Philip Reinagle became an animal and landscape painter although he was a member of a musical family. Trained as a portraitist, the works he exhibited up to 1785 were almost all portraiture which became distasteful to him and, bored, he abandoned it for animal painting. He was very successful in his treatment of sporting dogs, spaniels in particular. After the success of a landscape exhibited in 1787 he focused on those. He became an accomplished copyist of Dutch masters and his reproductions of certain cattle-pieces and landscapes have been passed off as the originals. Much has been speculated about the meaning and impetus behind the early 19th century Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog. Seen as a model of success in spaniel breeding, musical literacy could not have been seriously intended. Is it a satire on the musical prodigies of the day, or loyalist propaganda — the sheet music being “God Save the King”. Reinagle no doubt had a keen appreciation for the intelligence of dogs, and a somewhat comic attitude to this extraordinary specimen. Surely it’s meant to evoke a smile at this incongruous scene reminiscent of contemporary portraits of the time, mostly of young women similarly poised at the piano.

 

Portrait of an Extraordinary Musical Dog, painted in 1805 can be enjoyed at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts / Richmond, VA.

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Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

English, 1802–1873 (71 years)

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer was widely popular in Victorian Britain both among the aristocracy for his paintings, and among the middle-class for reproductions of his works. His reputation as an animal painter was unrivaled. A sculptor and a painter, his proficiencies, along with him painting animals, paved his way into aristocratic society. Queen Victoria commissioned him for many paintings from royal pets and gamekeepers to a portrait of herself as a wedding gift to Prince Albert. Landseer also did portraits of the Queen’s children, all in the company of dogs. Something of a prodigy, he was quick and said to be able to paint with both hands simultaneously. Landseer’s paintings celebrating water rescue dogs so popularized the mixed black and white Newfoundland he portrayed that LANDSEER became their official name. An early painting is credited with originating the myth of St. Bernard rescue dogs carrying a small cask of brandy on their collars. Exhibited at the Royal Academy, Trial by Jury is one of the most celebrated dog paintings of the 19th century. It satirized the legal system and Court using a white poodle with long ears similar to a legal wig in parody of the pomposity of a judge. So renowned, when Landseer died, flags in London were flown at half mast and the Lions he had sculpted at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square were draped in mourning.

 

Laying Down the Law -- also known as Trial by Jury, was painted in 1840. It is now part of a Collection at Chatsworth House / Derbyshire, England.

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