By CHERESE COBB
Who can resist a dog’s charms? Not you, not me, not even these five famous artists—whose mutt muses sniffed their way into some of their owners’ most iconic pieces.
Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait with Small Monkey
On September 17, 1925, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, who was already making plans to attend medical school, and her boyfriend Alejandro Gómez Arias were riding in a school bus that collided with a street car. Frida said that a “handrail pierced me the way a sword pierces a bull,” entering through her left hip and exiting through her genitals. Her spinal column and pelvis were each broken in three places. She also broke her collarbone and suffered two broken ribs. Her right leg, the one deformed by polio, was shattered, fractured in 11 places, and her right foot was dislocated and completely crushed.
Although she recovered from her injuries—after three months in a full body cast—she suffered from infertility so she adopted several pets and treated them like her surrogate children. Her favorites were a spider monkey named Fulang Chang and a hairless Xoloitzcuintli (pronounced show-loh-eets-KWEENT-lee) named Mr. Xoloti, both of which she features in this work. Out of her 143 paintings, 55 of them were self-portraits, featuring her treasured furbabies and incorporating her monobrow, faint mustache, dark braids, bright flowers, corset-style shirts, and long skirts.
Charles Schulz and Snoopy
Peanuts creator Charles Schulz’s childhood dog—a black and white pointer named Spike, who would later serve as the inspiration for Snoopy—could understand 50 English words and had a habit of eating pins, tacks, and razor blades whole. He was the subject of “Sparky’s” first published cartoon, which the 15-year-old sent to Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
Snoopy, whose name was suggested by Schulz’s mother, didn’t appear in the first Li’l Folks comic strip, which ran on October 2, 1950. Instead, he trotted through several strips later with a flower that appeared to be growing out of his head. He also walked on all-fours and enjoyed playing ball, chasing sticks, and listening intently to his owner, Charlie Brown. By the mid-1950s, Schulz began to humanize Snoopy—subtly, at first—by introducing thought bubbles. By the early ’60s, he stood up and had more expressive and whimsical features. He was such a phenomenon by the late ’60s that he didn’t need Charlie Brown. “Snoopy doesn’t even know Charlie Brown’s name in most instances,” says Corry Kanzenberg, Curator of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. “He just calls him ‘the round-headed kid.” Snoopy also became the only character that had a fully illustrated inner life: he had at least 100 different personas, from Joe Cool to the WWI Flying Ace.
Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s A Friend in Need
In 1903, painter Cassius Marcellus Coolidge started working for the “remembrance advertising” company Brown & Bigelow. He churned out a set of 16 oil paintings, depicting dogs testifying in court, pushing a broken-down car, and wielding a baseball bat. His most famous painting from the series, A Friend in Need, shows seven dogs sitting around a table playing poker until the wee hours of the morning. Often misnamed as Dogs Playing Poker, its title comes from the bulldog handing an ace under the table to his friend.
Reprinted as posters, calendars, and prints by cigar companies, Coolidge’s paintings were considered the epitome of lowbrow culture. While his own obituary described his greatest artistic accomplishment as having “painted many pictures of dogs,” he’s also invented photo stand-ins: old-fashioned carnival attractions where tourists stick their heads on top of cartoon figures.
Pablo Picasso’s Dog
On April 19, 1957, American photographer David Douglas Duncan brought his Dachshund named Lump, who didn’t get along with his Afghan Hound named Kublai Khan, to Pablo Picasso’s villa in the South of France. The Doxie immediately walked up to the Spanish painter and put his paws on him. Picasso looked down and said, “Buenos dias, amigo!” Then Lump leaped into his arms and gave him a kiss. A mutual love affair began. “He more or less said, ‘I’m staying here.’ And he did, for the next six years,” Duncan recalled in an interview on a visit to Paris.
Picasso described Lump—which means “rascal” in German—as indescribable: “Lump, he’s not a dog, he’s not a little man, he’s somebody else.” He also honored him by including him in several sketches and more than 40 paintings, which were based on Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas. Lump, who was suffering from a spinal problem common to his breed, passed away ten days before Picasso, on March 29, 1973.
Edvard Munch’s Dog’s Face
Edvard Munch is famous today as the creator of a single image, The Scream. His painting of a sexless, twisted, fetal-faced creature with mouth and eyes open wide in a shriek of horror captured the illness, madness and death that accompanied him throughout his life. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was 5, an older sister 10 years later, another sister went mad, his father and a brother died before he was 30, and the artist himself had a severe nervous breakdown when he was 45. He also struggled with alcoholism and bipolar disorder with psychosis, which lead up to him shooting two joints off his left hand’s ring finger.
In his later years, Munch, who never married, withdrew from society, living alone without servants or housekeepers. Only his dog Fips, who had “an old sage’s soul living inside of him,” kept him company while he devoted his time to his paintings, which he sometimes referred to as his children. Munch even took his dog to Roede’s cinema, where they watched Charlie Chaplin’s films together. If Fips no longer enjoyed the film, he would start barking and they would immediately leave the show.
By CHERESE COBB
Thirty-five thousand years ago represents a special time in human history: the creation of cave art. Among handprints and humanoids, there was man’s best friend. After the invention of portable art in the Old Stone Age, these five dog breeds made appearances lounging on the laps of kings and queens, nuzzling the faces of famous creatives, and comforting the children of commoners—and that’s just a small fraction of the dog art that exists between the past and the present.
Bred to sit on the laps of Chinese emperors during the early Shang Dynasty, Pugs were considered symbols of status and protection. Nicknamed “Foo Dogs” by Silk Road travelers, they were believed to be able to take down lions, which aren’t even native to China. This myth is most likely grounded in traditional Chinese statuary. Foo Dogs resemble Pugs but are actually stone lions that are covered in armor with their mouths open in mid-roar. They’re commonly placed at businesses, temple gates, home entrances and estates. Designed in pairs, the female (yin) protected the people dwelling inside the home while the male (yang) protected the structure itself.
During the 1400s, merchants and travelers brought Pugs—who once had longer muzzles, legs, and tails—to the Netherlands, where they spread across Europe, becoming a French favorite. “The women of Louis XVI’s court could afford to have these little, live-in warmers,” says Shannon Monroe, an art historian at Suffolk County Community College in Selden, New York. “It’s no well-kept secret that Pugs aren’t the slimmest of dogs. They were able to keep their masters warm by sitting on their laps, laying on their feet, and getting in bed with them.”
By the 1700s, Pugs had “exploded onto the Western art scene”. William Hogarth incorporated the little dogs, including his own named Trump, into many of his paintings. Johann Joachin Kaendler, a sculptor in the late 18th century, even created an entire series of Pug figurines, which served as a secret emblem for the German underground Freemason Lodge known as the Order of the Pug.
Greyhounds originated in Egypt around 9000 B.C. and are the only dogs mentioned by name in the Bible. Frequently displayed on murals in the tombs of the Pharaohs, Queen Hatshepsut—the second female pharaoh—traded four of her finest Greyhounds for cattle herds, myrrh trees, a living southern panther, and ten-foot-high piles of gold, spices and fur.
Greyhounds graced the backs of ancient Greek coins, and Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, often painted them lying near his feet. “In Homer’s epic, the Odyssey, Argo is the beloved and loyal dog of King Odysseus, and although the faithful and tragic animal’s breed is never officially given by the poet, he’s mentioned to have been a swift lean hunting dog, which has lead many scholars to believe that he was a Greyhound,” says Monroe.
Nearly becoming extinct during times of famine in the Middle Ages, the breed also makes many appearances in medieval manuscripts, sometimes in the company of mythological creatures such as griffins and dragons. A symbol of celebrity and loyalty, the breed was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, and Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert. “The dog in [19th century painter] Paul Gauguin’s Pastorales Tahitiennes was probably a Greyhound since the scene he sets is one where a beautiful island woman plays the flute, an instrument devoted to the adoration of an island moon goddess,” Monroe says. “Being European—and liking to inject a bit of that iconography into his work—he’d have been familiar with Western depictions of Diana, goddess of the hunt and moon, and her Greyhounds.”
Collies were brought to England in the 1800s and were shown under the name “Scotch Sheep Dog” in the Birmingham English Dog Show. Queen Victoria had at least two Collies, Noble and Sharp, who were very ill-tempered to everyone but the Queen, according to the Pall Mall Gazette. Reigning for 64 years, she most likely helped the popularity of the Collie and its transition from working dog to family pet.
Charles Burton Barber, a popular English painter of children and pets, captured the special relationship between this breed and children. “A Special Pleader shows a perfectly charming scene of a little girl being punished and the dog looking beseechingly at someone out of the composition, presumably the child’s caretaker,” Monroe says. “The dog’s expression not only gives the painting its name but alludes to the Collie’s charm as being a caring, special member of English households.”
Collies were also popular with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English painters, poets, and critics founded in the late 19th century. “In William Hunt’s Collie and Lamb, the dog stands over the obviously distressed lamb [a symbol of innocence and allegory of sacrifice] caught in the snow and calls for help,” Monroe says. Richard Ansdell, an English oil painter of animals and genre scenes, also painted the breed working in nature, “almost evocative of British Romantic era paintings with a touch of the sublime in a stormy sky and a nostalgia for the pre-industrial revolution era.
One of the oldest of the toy spaniels, the Papillon (pah-pee-yown), also called the Continental Toy Spaniel, has a high-domed head and flashy-looking fringed ears that somewhat resemble butterflies. The “big dog in a small body” also comes in a drop-eared variety called the Phalène (fa-len), which means “moth,” a cousin of the butterfly that folds its wings at rest.
Found in Europe as early as the 1200s, the breed’s ancestry is a mystery. While Italy, Belgium, France, and Spain are all strong contenders, a terracotta statue of the breed was discovered in a second-century Roman tomb in Belgium. During the 17th century, Italian breeders transported the little dogs to the court of Louis XV on the backs of mules. Madame de Pompadour, King Henry II of France, and Marie Antoinette—whose dog named Thisbe stood faithfully outside the prison where the hapless queen awaited beheading—owned Papillons. The breed has been traced back to depictions from the 16th century: a testament to its tenacity and staying power. Old masters like Rubens, Fragonard, Van Dyke, and Watteau portrayed Papillons in various artworks, usually accompanying their doting mistresses. “Titian painted them into so many of his works that they became known as Titian Spaniels,” Monroe says. In his Venus of Urbino, a young woman reclines on a bed in an opulent Renaissance palace. She is sensuous and gazes at the viewer kindly. A Papillion, a symbol of marital fidelity, sleeps at her feet while a maid looks down upon a young child playing, which symbolizes motherhood. “The little Papillion has survived…better than the royal families in whose courts they were once such a favorite,” says June Peterson-Crane, a historian at the Papillon Club for America. “Men, women, and children of all ages take them into their laps and hearts.”
Perhaps, the Xoloitzcuintlis’ (pronounced show-loh-eets-KWEENT-lee) ego stems from the fact that it’s one of the most easily recognized and most often depicted dog in the Americas. “Beginning as early as 300 B.C., they appear as single effigy vases, as dancing figures, as old and wrinkly and pregnant, and sometimes with an ear of corn in their mouths,” Monroe says. The Olmec tribe, often regarded as the mother culture of Mexico, and the Aztecs raised Xolos (“sho-los”), which were eaten by the wealthy, usually only on special occasions. They conducted canine sacrifices by shooting them with arrows, asphyxiating them, or throwing the hog-tied animals on rocks before extracting their hearts, which were later cooked and given to Tlaloc, the rain god. The Mayans also mummified “Colima dogs,” believing that they would eventually join them in the underworld, called Xibalba, roughly translated as “place of fear.”
During WWI, military scientists experimented on the Mexican Hairless with poisonous gases because of the similarities between the animals’ slightly waxy skin and that of humans, which accelerated the already-dwindling population. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the breed caught the eye of artists. Mexican muralist Diego Rivera painted a series of frescoes on the stairway walls and corridors of the Palacio Nacional: one depicts a Xolo snarling at a European dog imported by the Spanish conquistadors. They also make cameo appearances in several of Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits including Itzcuintli Dog with Me and Portrait with Small Monkey.
By CHERESE COBB
Just call him Pablo Pawcasso. Hunter, a 5-year-old black-and-tan Shiba Inu from Alberta, Canada, has learned how to paint abstract masterpieces by crosshatching non-toxic acrylics in a drippy, streaky and swirly style.
His owners, Kenny Au, a computer engineer, and Denise Lo, an ESL teacher, discovered his hidden artistic talent when they were looking for a new hobby to teach him after he “got as far as he could go” in regards to agility courses. Incredibly crafty and intelligent, proud and independent, careful and tidy, Hunter enjoys exploring new hiking routes, chasing backyard birds and solving children’s puzzles.
“He needs…physical and mental challenges to be happy,” Lo says. “He’s either sleeping soundly or 100 percent ready to accomplish his goals.
A year ago, they got him a little piano, but he hated it. Then a blank space on their wall inspired them to teach Hunter a doggone good trick: how to create art by painting paper with short, confident strokes.
“We had a large blank wall that needed something to go on it, and we thought about how we could make something that the whole family could contribute to,” she says. “Because Hunter is such a calm, careful and responsive dog, we figured he’d be able to learn the brushing motions to create some kind of memento for us. We were really surprised at how good the result was right off the bat.” So, they shared his work on Facebook and Reddit where it generated a lot of memes and even a Photoshop battle.
“We don’t paint every day,” Lo tells FETCH. “Hunter usually barks and stares at us when he wants to do it.” Then he patiently stands in front of a blank piece of acrylic paper, taped on top of a black tarp by his humans. He’s extremely picky about the weight of the brushes and how chewy they are. When he finally chooses one, his owners dab it in the paint and stick it between his teeth. After making a brush stroke on the paper, he’s handed another brush with a different paint color and rewarded with kibble.
“It’s not much, but it’s different from the brand that we usually feed him. He thinks it’s a treat,” she says. “When he learns a new trick, however, he’s…visibly proud of himself, so it isn’t just the treats that motivate him. We can definitely see that he enjoys being placed in different environments and learning new things, especially after struggling with it. I think that’s something that both an artist and [a] doggo can share.”
While Hunter is normally pretty careful about where the paintbrush goes, he’ll occasionally try to paint lying down, ending up with a rainbow of paint specks dried in his fur. As for signing his paintings, he doesn’t like getting his paws dirty at all, so the couple created a stamp from a mold of his paw. “If he’s feeling bored or uninspired, then he changes up his brush strokes a bit and the paintings become more interesting,” Lo says. “We’re trying watercolors as well, and we think the combination would look really good. We prefer it if he’s not painting the exact same way every time because each painting should be unique.”
Au and Lo don’t think that Hunter’s more capable of being trained than other dogs or breeds. Some dogs can balance three pints of Ben & Jerry’s on their heads. Some dogs can hold behemoth slices of pepperoni pizza in their mouths without wolfing them down. Some dogs can even ride forward and backward on bicycles with training wheels. “Just like people, it really depends on the dogs and what they’re into,” Au says. “A large part of it has to do with the time and the effort that the owners are willing to commit to finding out what interests their dogs have and how to encourage them to test their limits.”
Hunter isn’t just painting for kicks—er, wags—anymore, though. He’s cashing in on his talents with his nearly 100 paintings fetching $41.06 each on Etsy. (Now, that’s a lot of kibble.) He’s also giving pound puppies a paw up by donating his paintings to Second Chance Animal Rescue Society in Edmonton, Alberta.
The couple wonders if he’ll ever get bored—at which point they’ll stop doing it. But that hasn’t happened. “He’s been really consistent, and he’s still enjoying it,” Lo says. “[However], he thinks of us more as his companions than his masters, so if he thinks we are treating him unfairly, he’ll let us know.” Follow him on online @shibaartonline or visit his Etsy store (etsy.me/2J0Sfoy) to commission an original painting.