On 24 November 1837, Queen Victoria (1819-1901) recorded in her Journal that Sir Edwin Landseer (1803-73) had shown her a sketch he had executed that very morning ‘of a picture he is to paint for me of Hector and Dash’. Five days later, the Queen noted that she had seen ‘the picture of the dogs, with the dogs only sketched in, but quite beautifully’ (Journal, 29 November 1837). Although Lord Melbourne reportedly admired the painting on 23 January 1838, it was not until 9 April that Queen Victoria would consider the picture as ‘finished’ and ‘the most beautiful thing imaginable’ (Journal). The work was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1838 and was dubbed by the Queen as being ‘too beautiful’ (Journal, 4 May 1838).
Landseer’s group portrait of royal pets depicts the greyhound Nero, Hector the Scottish deerhound, Dash the spaniel and Lory, the parrot seen cracking nuts, within a naturalistic interior. The low viewpoint and the relaxed positioning of the animals endow the portrait with a sense of informality and intimacy.
Nero may be the large greyhound that the Duchess of Kent is documented as having acquired in 1836. Hector, when ‘quite a puppy’, had been gifted to Victoria, then Princess of Kent, in June 1835 by Lawrence Dundas; although the Princess reported that the hound quickly grew to a considerable size, she also noted that he was ‘as gentle as a lamb, and very playful’ but incurred the jealousy of the erstwhile favourite, Dash.
By 1838, Landseer had already captured both Dash (RCIN 403096) and Lory (RCIN 403049), and would go on to produce over forty works for Queen Victoria and the Prince Albert; notably, both domestic and exotic animals recur throughout the body of Landseer’s royal commissions, appearing as often alone as they do alongside their masters.