The Wallace Collection is showcasing an exhibition entitled “Portraits of Dogs: From Gainsborough to Hockney”, which will run to 15 October 2023. Originally scheduled for 2020 but postponed due to the pandemic, the exhibition delves deep into humanity’s enduring connection with dogs.
The exhibition examines the evolution of dog portraiture, which developed alongside human portraiture. Evidence of this artistic connection can be traced back to the earliest cave paintings where dogs and humans are depicted side by side. Particularly in the UK from the seventeenth century onwards, dog portraits became a prominent form of artistic expression. The British, more than any other nationality, have frequently commissioned and accumulated portraits of their canine companions.
The artworks for the exhibition were mostly sourced from UK collections, carefully selected for their exclusive focus on dogs, absent of human figures. However, these portraits intriguingly disclose as much about the dog’s owner as they do about the dog itself. Dr Xavier Bray, the Wallace Collection’s Director and a dog lover himself, had the following to say about the exhibit:
“The idea of curating an exhibition of dog portraiture has been in the pipeline for a long time and, fortunately, the Wallace Collection lends itself perfectly to the staging of such an exhibition. Two of our most popular paintings are seminal dog portraits, Rosa Bonheur’s Brizo, A Shepherd’s Dog (1864) and Edwin Landseer’s Doubtful Crumbs (1858–9). They represent two very contrasting approaches to the art of dog portraiture. Bonheur’s portrait is a superbly lifelike and intimate portrayal of her French otterhound, Brizo. By contrast, Landseer is more interested in introducing a biblical parable into his portrayal, exemplifying the 19th century urge to moralise through dog portraiture. In his work, a small street terrier waits for the ‘crumbs’ from the St Bernard who falls asleep while feasting in his warm kennel – a Victorian moral of the rewards that await in heaven for the meek amongst us.”
Dr Xavier Bray, Director, Wallace Collection
More than 50 artworks will grace Hertford House during this exhibition. Portraits of Dogs will span a wide range of styles and periods, representing dogs in a plethora of shapes and sizes. The oldest piece on display is a late first-century Roman marble sculpture of two greyhounds, known as the Townley Greyhounds, borrowed from the British Museum. This sculpture highlights the early bond between the two dogs, perhaps the first depiction of the ‘Vertragus’ dog, an ancient Celtic breed.
Another standout is a metalpoint drawing by Leonardo da Vinci from c. 1490–95, which provides an intricate study of a dog’s forepaw, possibly belonging to a deerhound. It keenly details the tendons, claws, and pads.
The exhibition also explores the relationship between dogs and the British monarchy, notably Queen Victoria’s fondness for spaniels. Exhibits include a portrait of her Sussex spaniel, Tilco, and her own sketches of her beloved dogs.
Artists often portrayed their own dogs or those of close acquaintances. The exhibition features captivating examples, including Thomas Gainsborough’s Tristram and Fox and James Ward’s Portrait of Fanny, A Favourite Dog.
To culminate, the display includes a series of paintings from 1995 by David Hockney, presenting intimate moments of his dachshunds, Stanley and Boodgie.
Accompanying the exhibition is a comprehensive 155-page catalogue titled “Faithful and Fearless: Portraits of Dogs”.
Some of the Items On Display
Click to enlarge.