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Animals in Art



Paintings of Pooches
Gilbert Charles Stuart, American, <I>Portrait of James Ward</I>, 1779, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund
zoom Gilbert Charles Stuart, American, Portrait of James Ward, 1779, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund

 

They say a dog is a man’s best friend. Dogs also must be great pals with artists, because these furry, four-legged friends are often found in works of art. Sometimes the image of a dog is symbolic and meant to tell us something about its owner. For example, in many Renaissance and Baroque paintings, a dog is a symbol of fidelity. Other times a dog is seen as treasured household member, who deserves a spot in the formal family portrait. And in some works of art a dog isn’t just part of the picture, but the main subject.

In this painting, a boy stands confidently with his arm around his dog. The pose, costume, and canine were all based on paintings by a prominent artist of the seventeenth century, Anthony van Dyck, who often included dogs in his portraits. He painted the dogs to match their high-society owners.

In addition to being the boy’s pet, this dog reveals some details about its owner. First, the artist cleverly discloses the identity of the boy by inscribing his name on the dog’s collar: J. Ward. Ten years old at the time of this portrait, James Ward loved animals throughout his life. He became one of the greatest animal painters of his generation, and was commissioned by England’s Board of Agriculture to paint more than two hundred portraits of livestock on farms throughout country.


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1. The placement of a dog in this portrait probably symbolized the virtuous nature of the woman.
Gabriel Metsu, Portrait of a Lady, 1667, oil on panel, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Atherton and Winifred W. Bean
2. Dogs often made their way into family portraits. If you look closely at the painting you can see that a dog is nuzzling the hand of the woman.
Nicolas de Largilliere, Portrait of Catherine Coustard, c. 1699, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The John R. Van Derlip Trust Fund
3. When Ward grew up he became a famous engraver and painter of animals, especially dogs and horses.
James Ward, Marengo, 1824, crayon lithograph, © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Lee M. Friedman Fund

 

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April 2008