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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Canine Art

Bad Dog, Richard Jackson, Orange County Museum of Art. Everyone's a critic...
copyright, Jim Lane
So Much to Do, So Little Time,
2000, Jim Lane
About four months ago I wrote on the topic of Feline Art. I had intended to follow up a short time later with a corresponding piece on canine art but somehow the time slipped away and I forgot. It's time to correct that oversight. In the three or four dozen years I've worked as an artist, I've probably painted (or drawn) three or four dozens different images of the Canine specie. Of course, I have a favorite, our beloved Sheltie (miniature Collie) named Fileena, whom we raised from a rambunctious young pup to doddering old age (she died in 2005). I painted her perhaps a half-dozen times. One of my favorites, So Much to Do, So Little Time (right), employs real Milk Bone dog biscuits in the foreground, receding into painted ones toward the background. She thoroughly enjoyed posing for that one.

Riders, Leagros Group, Greek, ca 500 BC
Chinese green glazed ceramics, 25-220 AD
Dog-like creatures have supposedly been identified on the walls of prehistoric caves (probably wolves) but the Greeks apparently were the first to so value canines as to paint identifiable images of them, the earliest dating from about 500 BC (above) rendered on the sides of their well-preserved ceramic vessels. Not surprisingly they were apparently prized for their hunting ability. Most early painted images depicted hunting dogs rather than pets or companions. Also not surprisingly, many of the earliest canine images were ceramic or terracotta. The Chinese pup at right may have been used as a toy. The more recent dog on wheels (below) came from Mexico and dates from around 450-650 AD., seems to have definitely been a toy, indicating that such animals had, by that time moved from the realm of hunters to household pets.

Pre-Columbian, Veracruz artifact, 450-650 AD.
Puppies, 1883, Carl Reichert Mutters.
Dogs of all sizes and breeds have long been painted as secondary centers of interest in human portraits, but it seems to have been only as late as the 19th century that they began becoming the subject of individual portraits. The English painter, Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) was as famous for his paintings of dogs as for his horses and other farm animals. He may have been the first to paint portraits of specific dogs. His canine portrait, A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society, from 1838, depicts a rugged Newfoundland, the breed which has taken the name, Landseer. However, it pales in comparison to Carl Reichert Mutters Puppies (left), from 1883 for juvenile canine humor and sheer, high-impact drama. As the 20th century began to come alive, such genre fun and games gave way to the use of the hackneyed "man's best friend" as a means of illustrating some of the major tenets of Modern Art. Giacomo Balla's little Daschund on a leash from 1912 (below, left) may appear at first glance to depict the little guy struggling to gain traction on ice, but Balla used him as a means of illustrating the dynamics of movement on canvas. Perhaps he should have, however, made a move instead.

Lump, 1957, Pablo Picasso
--the beauty of a single line.
Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash,
1912, Giacomo Balla

Pablo Picasso had a Daschund as well, called "lump" (pronounced loomp) which is German for "Rascal." He was a gift from a photographer friend in 1957. The single, unbroken line of Picasso's contour drawing (above, right) is a masterpiece in canine portrait simplicity. Over the course of the 20th century however, not all artists have been as kind or respectful of canine dignity--take Dennis Zilber's Hunting Dog (below, left), for instance, or Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog (below, right), or his flowery Puppy. The ASPCA should sue. Or, perhaps Richard Jackson's Bad Dog (top) has the right idea.

Baloon Dog, Jeff Koons
Hunting Dog, Dennis Zilber

My turn now...hold still or I'll make you "dog eared."


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