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Monday, November 10, 2014

Vincent de Vos

The Sculptor, 1870s, Vincent de Vos. (This one cracked me up.)                         
Joos Vincent de Vos Self-portrait, 1874
As a veteran of way too many local art shows where one sits around for hours and hours waiting for a potential buyer to even look like they might be a potential buyer, I found a sure way to attract attention, and more than that, actually sell a painting or two--paint animals. Primarily I'm talking about dogs and cats, but I've sold cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys, deer, horses, even raccoons. It's something of a tossup as to whether cats or dogs were my best sellers, but it was almost axiomatic that kittens and puppies were virtually irresistible. The Belgian artist, Vincent de Vos may never have done an "art in the park" show with his paintings of animals (primarily dogs and monkeys), but he knew the cardinal rules...keep them small and keep them cheap, then paint lots of them. While other artists of his time were fighting tooth and nail for portrait commissions, his subjects never complained about their noses being to big or the mouth being "not quite right."

At Play, Vincent, de Vos
Joos Vincent de Vos was born in 1829, very nearly on the French border of northwestern Belgium in the small town of Kortrijk. His father was a miller. He studied first at the Kortrijk Academy where he won medals for composition, antique images, anatomy, and perspective--the proverbial big fish in a small pond. Rather than doing the expected, that is, moving on up to the Paris art academy factories when he graduated in the early 1850s, de Vos tried making a living as an artist in his hometown before giving that up in favor of further studies as a landscape painter in Italy, specifically the artists colony of Roman Campagna, a picturesque area located in the low-lying region just south of Rome. This little sojourn seems to have largely been a waste of time, however, in that no landscapes of any consequence survive in de Vos' work. It's possible, though, images from this period may, in fact, appear as backgrounds in some of the artist's animal paintings.

Your Rest After Hunting, 1860s, Vincent de Vos
Dogs at the Boiling Kettle, 1875, Vincent de Vos
Inasmuch as there is little to be found of de Vos' early work in any from before around the mid-1860s it's quite likely he didn't discover the secret to his success until around 1870. And since he died in 1875, that leaves a tremendously short working career--barely five to ten years. His list of known works numbers no more than a couple dozen. One of de Vos' earliest paintings, Your Rest After Hunting, from the mid to late 1860s is interesting in that, while it does feature his favorite canine subjects, they are simply pictured as...well...dogs being dogs (hunting dogs in this case). There is nothing of the human traits (or personification) he seems to have discovered later on. Though his Dogs at the Boiling kettle (above, right) might seem somewhat amusing to pet owners, both it and de Vos' At Play, which features button-cute puppies, is likewise devoid of any elements causing them to stand out from the crowd, even in out-of-the-way Kortrijk, Belgium.

The General, 1870, Vincent de Vos.
(The resemblance to Napoleon is probably no accident).
Waiting, 1870s, Vincent de Vos. 
At first glance I thought he was making
a monkey out of Santa Claus.
Then, sometime during the early 1870s, de Vos seems to have discovered monkeys. Monkeys are not dogs (obviously) though they do get along pretty well with most of the rest of the domesticated animal kingdom, and no matter how you paint them, they have an innate tendency toward looking human. Moreover, monkeys have another thing going for them--they're funny. Not only that, but when transposed to human garb and situations, they tend to make monkeys of their human counterparts. That was the secret to Vincent de Vos' success during the brief, final years of his life. His The Sculptor (top) with its laughing marble bust would, at first glance, seem to be art mocking the monkey, but it fact, it goes beyond that. It's art mocking the artist; and by inference, it would seem to include all artists. At one time or another, that's very nearly a universal experience for anyone addicted to creative endeavors.

The Alchemist, 1870, Vincent de Vos,
(likely intended to cast aspersions upon scientists in general).
The Acrobats, 1875, Vincent de Vos.
Having latched onto a good thing, de Vos goes on to mock The Alchemists (above) from 1870 (all these dates are highly questionable), as well as generals, acrobats (left), and diners (above, left), while also developing a fascination with performing dogs, perhaps originating the phrase, "Dog and Pony Show," inasmuch as the two seem interchangeable in de Vos' work. De Vos' range of animal subjects was apparently a good deal broader then dogs and monkeys. He also seems to have kept wolves, foxes, and even a camel. As might be expected, in the days before photography became an animal artist's best friend, de Vos' studio was said to look (and no doubt smell) like a zoo.

Monkeys Always Play the Scene, 1870, Vincent de Vos.


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