Art’s Best Friend: Dogs in Paintings

Joanna Kaszubowska 13 February 2024 min Read

No one will ever be as happy to see you coming back home as your dog. Since they are always with us, they do deserve their own place in art. And they certainly have it, not only as companions in their owner’s portraits but also on their own. As you can see below, dogs in paintings come in all shapes and sizes but are always our best friends… well, almost always.

1. Cave Canem, Pompeii

Cave Canem mosaic, 2nd century, House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, Italy. World History.

Not a portrait exactly, but an early example of a “beware of dog” plaque, on a slightly larger scale too. Some things last for a long time (the plaques), and some thankfully go away (the chain).

2. Agostino Carracci, Study of a Spaniel’s Head

Agostino Carracci, Study of a Spaniel’s Head, c. 1598, Museum of Prints and Drawings, Berlin, Germany.

Hmmm… this dog in art looks a bit more like a lion than a spaniel to me, but the look in its eyes cannot be mistaken — Someone is eating something and not sharing!

3. Gerrit Dou, Sleeping Dog

Gerrit Dou, Sleeping Dog, 1650, Museum of Fine Art, Boston, MA, USA.

Is it really sleeping or just pretending so it doesn’t have to do much?

4. Giuseppe Castiglione, Tawny Yellow Leopard

Giuseppe Castiglione, Tawny Yellow Leopard, 1747, National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan.

By no means is this a leopard? Actually, Castiglione was commissioned by Emperor Qianlong to paint a series of Ten Fine Hounds.

5. George Stubbs, White Poodle in a Punt

George Stubbs, White Poodle in a Punt, c. 1780, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA.

It does not seem very happy, does it? Poodles were water retrievers, so they should feel comfortable in the proximity of water, maybe it’s the missing duck.

6. Francisco Goya, The Dog

Francisco Goya, The Dog, c. 1819 1823, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

So dramatic and sad, probably one of the most moving depictions of a dog in art.

7. Édouard Manet, A King Charles Spaniel

Édouard Manet, A King Charles Spaniel, ca. 1866, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA.

I know you have my snacks! I’ll get you as soon as we’re done here! A truly noble one, art before snacks.

8. Paul Gauguin, Still Life with Three Puppies

Paul Gauguin, Still Life with Three Puppies, 1888, Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, USA.

It is difficult to resist the charm of a puppy, with three no one stands a chance.

9. Last but not least: Sir Edwin Landsee, A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society

Sir Edwin Landseer, A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, 1838, Tate, London, UK.

More distinguished and dignified than many people, Bob was made a distinguished member of the Royal Humane Society. He saved 23 people from drowning over the course of 14 years! Good boy!

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