Celebrate our canine companions with these 8 paw-some artworks
Just as you love your own cute pooch, artists have been obsessed with dogs for thousands of years; our furry friends were even painted on the walls of caves by our distant ancestors.
Since then, dogs have been present everywhere in art, from hunting scenes in the Middle Ages to portraits of lap dogs in the 19th century. Artistic depictions of Man's best friend often symbolize guidance, protection, loyalty, faithfulness, and love, the very characteristics of dogs themselves.
Scroll on to meet some of our favorite cute pups from the history of art...
1. We all want to go to 'Dog Mountain'!
These dogs were found with another similar pair near Civita Lavinia. They were acquired in 1774 by Charles Townley from the painter and dealer Gavin Hamilton, who had conducted excavations at a place called 'Dog Mountain'. The appropriateness of the name was not lost on Hamilton, who also found other marble dogs there, a sphinx with dog's body and two statues of Actaeon attacked by hounds. It was once thought that the site of the find was to be identified with the ruins of a palace of the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (reigned AD 138-161). But this is no longer thought to be true, and the sculpture cannot therefore be firmly dated, as previously thought, to his reign.
These are among the most charming representations of 'man's best friend' to come down to us from antiquity.
2. Loyalty and fidelity
“Portrait of a Noblewoman” illustrates Lavinia Fontana’s ability to render sumptuous clothing and jewels in astonishing detail. The contrast between the woman and the painting’s plain, dark background is especially strong, ensuring that viewers will focus on the figure and her tiny dog.
Recent scholarship has established that this painting of an unidentified, young Bolognese noblewoman is almost certainly her marriage portrait. Studies of account books and family diaries from this period show that the clothes and gems depicted here correspond precisely to the items typical of a high-born bride’s trousseau. Additionally, 16th-century Bolognese brides wore red dresses, and the dog represents the woman's marital fidelity.
3. Everyone loves a pugnacious pug
Hogarth first began this self-portrait in the mid-1730s. X-rays have revealed that, at this stage, it showed the artist in a formal coat and wig. Later, however, he changed these to the more informal cap and clothes seen here. The oval canvas containing Hogarth’s self-portrait appears propped up on volumes of Shakespeare, Swift and Milton, authors who inspired Hogarth’s own commitment to drama, satire and epic poetry. Hovering above the surface of his palette is the ‘Line of Beauty and Grace’, which underpinned Hogarth’s own theories on art.
Hogarth’s pug dog, Trump, whose features resemble his, serves as an emblem of the artist’s own pugnacious character.
3. Beauty and the beast
With his pupil Fragonard, François Boucher is rightly held to epitomize the rococo sensibility in French eighteenth-century painting. Refined in intelligence as much as in taste, Boucher's art is a celebration of surface, not superficiality. His love of silks, satins, velvets, furs and brocades is exceeded only by his devotion to the pearly properties of youthful skin, especially female skin. Whether painting the mythical subjects that characterise his larger commissions, or, as here, an intimate portrait of his wife, Marie-Jeanne Buseau, Boucher brought to the task an attention to detail and a sense of delight that are definitively rococo.
This painting wittily, and not at either's expense, juxtaposes the very different beauties of a charming woman and her lapdog. The latter is a canine inclusion with sexual connotations in the iconography of the period - though it's unlikely that Boucher would portray his spouse in the role of a teasing mistress!
4. Skin and fur
Although this painting is dated 1868, the year it was first publicly exhibited, it was certainly painted around 1861-1862. The model is in fact Léontine Renaude, the painter's mistress at the time.
The erotic tone is created by the direct link between the woman and her dog. The affection shown for the animal is a metaphor of sensual love for the lover, the complicit spectator of the scene.
5. Why have one puppy when you can have three?
Gauguin's painting features three distinct zones: a still life of fruit in the foreground, a row of three blue goblets and apples diagonally bisecting the canvas, and three puppies drinking from a large pan. The incongruous scale and placement of these objects on a dramatically upturned tabletop results in a disorienting composition.
When Gauguin painted Still Life with Three Puppies, he was living in Brittany among a group of experimental painters, including Emile Bernard. He abandoned naturalistic depictions and colors, declaring that "art is an abstraction" to be derived "from nature while dreaming before it."
The puppies' bodies, for example, are outlined in bold blue, and the patterning of their coats mirrors the botanic print of the tablecloth. It is thought that Gauguin drew stylistic inspiration for this painting from Japanese prints, which were introduced to him by his friend and fellow artist Vincent van Gogh that same year, and from children's book illustrations.
6. They're cute but they're also noisey!
Klee's playful depiction of a solitary dog baying at a radiant moon exemplifies the artist's reliance on a linear style of representation. Using a series of sinuous lines, Klee creates a harmonious arrangement of three distinct forms: a dog, the moon, and in an unusual but charming visualization of sound, the dog's extended howl. Placed at the center of an amorphous ground of swirling colors, the dog's howl assumes a dominant pictorial role, winding, bending on itself, hanging in the night air like a wisp of smoke, while representing a visual as well as temporal record of the emanating sound.
7. They're still cute when they're hairless
After having painted several murals in the Secretary of Education building in Mexico City, Diego Rivera rescued some images from them for smaller-format lithographs, as in the case of The Boy with the Taco, from 1932. The lithograph shows a boy eating a taco while a hairless Mexican dog, or xoloitzcuintle, sits at his feet, waiting eagerly for a scrap.
It is not by chance that Diego included the dog, for he had made a reappraisal of this canine breed, that dates back to pre-Hispanic times, when it played a role not only in everyday life but also in religion and myth. The xoloitzcuintle has been introduced to many parts of the world, but its unique hairlessness never fails to inspire interest and curiosity.
8. Old meets new
The artist daringly combines a traditional painting subject, peonies, with a new theme, new western breeds of dogs. Though the artist has used features of the traditional painting style, he substitutes the dogs for lions, which traditionally appeared with peonies. The artist was said to own as many as fifty dogs as pets so that he could observe the animals. The result of his effort is clear in this painting.
9. Puppies AND flowers: two of the best things in life!
One of the world’s most famous contemporary artists, Jeff Koons, created 'Puppy' outside Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in 1995 as Project 10, celebrating 25 years of Kaldor Public Art Projects. Created as a symbol of love and happiness, 'Puppy' stood 12.4 meters high on the harbourside, carpeted in flowering blooms like a monolithic topiary. Presented as part of the 1996 Sydney Festival, Puppy became one of the most memorable projects and was viewed by more than 1.8 million people in Sydney before relocating to its permanent home outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.