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  • Writer's pictureAmy Elizabeth Fine Art

A History of Pet Portraits - Dog Edition

I was inspired to write this post after finding my guidebook from "The Dog- A Celebration at Chatsworth", which was the main exhibition at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire throughout the 2019 season. As a pet portrait artist who lives in the area, this exhibition was not one that I could miss out on! The display was thought up by the Duchess of Devonshire, and was designed to explore the enduring love for dogs throughout paintings, drawings, photographs and contemporary art. The curators discovered the best pieces to show the endearing, faithful playful characters of mans best friend.

These pieces ranged from historic to modern day, with both items from the Chatsworth collection and those from private collections (including the Queens!). Highlights included Constable and Gainsborough to contemporary pieces by Antony Gormley, and on the South Lawn, an eight metre high scaffold dog created by Ben Long which was specially commissioned. This to me looked very much like a ginormous schnauzer, and here you can see a photograph with Monty in the same pose for comparison!

Some of the earliest artistic pieces of dogs are from around 800 BC, where the Greeks showed their fondness for dogs through the creation of mosaics, pottery, sculptures and other pieces of artwork.

Dogs were also featured in artworks dating from the Roman empire. It is thought that this is around the period that dogs were thought to be more domesticated. This particular mosaic is an 1830's copy of a the Roman original. It was a gift from the famous gardener Joseph Paxton. "Cave Canem" translates to beware of the dog.

Laying down the Law (or trail by jury) seen below, has always been one of my favourite pieces of artwork at Chatsworth. It is displayed in the entrance hall. This piece is a work of satire by Landseer, which depicts 14 dogs that have human characteristics. He was inspired to paint it after seeing the

poodle owned by Count d'Orsay, which reminded him of a judge with very fixed views. The dogs are gathered around the Poodle, with this fluffy white ears that have a striking similarity with a legal wig represents the judge, who has his paw resting on a book. The dogs surrounding him have a range of expressions on their faces as they accept the poodles decision.

The Duke that purchased Laying down the Law, actually requested that one of this dogs be added into the piece of work. "Bony" can be seen on the left behind the black greyhound.

The piece shown below titled 'Bony and Var" is another work by Edwin Landseer. This features Bony (on the right) and another dog called Var.

Bony was gifted to the 6th Duke, and a letter from the giver states that she hopes her gift would find favour with him. As he appeared in numerous portraits would suggest that this little dog was a rather popular gift!

The first known surviving photograph was taken in 1826 or 1827. It wasn't long before the subject matter turned to dogs. "Photographs of dogs in the Royal Kennels" is an album of photographs taken by William Bambridge in 1865. This gives an insight into the dogs in the Queens kennels. The dog that features on the front cover is a greyhound called Helios. A wide variety of dogs are on show in the album, including Border Collies, Dachshunds, a variety of different terriers and Pugs. Queen Victoria was devoted to her dogs, and had a kennels built in Windsor Home Park, with comfortable sitting rooms built (decorated with portraits of her dogs) so she could spend many happy hours with her dogs.

A photograph of Looty, he was the first Pekingese dog in Britain, having been brought back from China after the Second Opium War and given to Queen Victoria in 1861.

Looty, a Pekinese Lion dog, also had his portrait painted by Friedrich Wilhelm Key. He is shown here sitting on a red cushion in front of a Japanese vase. The small dog had been found by Captain John Hart Dunne after the Summer Palace near Beijing (Peking, as it was then known) had been looted in October 1860. On returning to England he presented it to Queen Victoria for 'the Royal Collection of dogs'. Looty was considered "the smallest and by far the most beautiful little animal that has appeared in this country". When asked to paint Looty, Keyl was told he "must put something to shew its size it is remarkably small".

On to more modern works of art, these are 3 of David Hockney's "Dog Paintings" series of 48 works of art of Hockney's two rescue Dachshunds Stanley and Boodgie. These works of art were published in his 1998 book David Hockney's Dog Days.

In the introduction he states "I make no apologies for the apparent subject matter. These two dear creatures are my friends, they are intelligent, loving, comical and often bored. They watch me work. I notice the warm shapes they make together, their sadness and delights." I think this statement sums up how all animal artist feel about how their subjects inspire them to create artworks that can show an animals character as well as their appearance.

I do feel that even though the paintings not highly detailed in nature he has still portrayed their characters very well. This is the mark of a good pet portrait, there is a good likeness, but also something of the animals personality there as well.

These are all varied depictions of these intelligent creatures who share in our lives and continue to captivate us with their faithful companionship and endearing characters. These pieces celebrate dogs that have been constant companions and form a fitting and lasting tribute for the love and faithful companionship they have provided.

The Dog- A Celebration at Chatsworth exhibition is now over, but Chatsworth is open to visit. Dogs are welcome in the gardens and there is also extensive parkland to explore. It is located in the Peak District in Derbyshire, a fantastic place to visit with a number of dog friendly places to go near by.

If this has inspired you to have your own piece of timeless artwork created of your pet, please feel free to have a chat with me by emailing me at or check out my artwork at

Below I have a list of links if you are interested in reading more on the subjects I have talked about.


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