Dogs are a huge part of human civilization. Often called “man’s best friend,” dogs are one of the most important animals that we, as humans, have tamed. Throughout history, they’ve helped us hunt, protected our property, and been there in our times of need. So, it is no surprise that these animals are such a massive inspiration for storytellers and artists.
There have been excellent books written about dogs, such as “A Dog’s Tale,” “Call of the Wild,” and “A Boy and His Dog.” Excellent films about dogs, such as Marley and Me, Isle of Dogs, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, and many more, have stirred many hearts. And, of course, a slew of famous dog paintings have become staples of popular culture. So, in this article, we will go over the most popular dog paintings and their artists.
C. M. Coolidge – Dogs Playing Poker
When somebody mentions dog paintings, most people first think about Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s iconic painting Dogs Playing Poker. However, many people might not be familiar with the story behind Dogs Playing Poker. For example, most don’t realize that the title does not refer to a specific painting but rather a whole collection of images by the artist that depict dogs gambling in some way.
The most iconic painting is titled A Friend in Need, and it depicts seven hounds of different species sitting around a poker table. Most dogs seem sad, implying that they have been dealt terrible cards. One of them, however, has a massive smile on his face. We can assume who is winning the big pot.
C.M. Coolidge also produced several other “gambling dog” paintings, the most iconic of which are the Poker Game (1894), depicting four St. Bernards playing poker, His Station and Four Aces (1903), depicting several dogs at a poker match, and Poker Sympathy (1903), depicting several dogs around a table, presumably after the game.
Francisco Goya – the Dog
Francisco Goya is one of the most notable Spanish artists of all time. Strutting the line between the “Old Masters” and the modernists, Francisco Goya’s works hugely influenced the artistic world of the 19th and 20th centuries. His work has played a vital role in inspiring master painters like Picasso, Salvador Dali, and Michael Zansky, as well as writers and poets like Andrei Voznesensky and Fernando Arrabal.
One of the Spanish master’s most significant paintings is El Perro (the Dog). An installment in one of Goya’s Black Paintings series, El Perro portrays a small, black dog, its body obscured by a mass of brown. Set against a yellowish-brownish background, the painting seems to imply that the dog is distressed in some way. One of Goya’s most iconic paintings, and certainly one of the most popular “dog paintings” in the world, El Perro is a piece of art worth seeing in person.
Fans of Goya’s work can see much of his art by visiting the Prado Museum in Madrid. If travel is not an option, you will be happy to find that the museum is one of the few that offer online tours, so you can enjoy Goya’s work from the comfort of your home.
Jean-Leon Gerome – Diogenes Sitting in His Tub
In the late 19th century, a style of artistry known as academicism grew popular in Europe. Jean-Leon Gerome was one of the most famous artists to paint in this style. His works were so renowned and commonly reproduced that by 1880 he became the most famous living artist in the world.
Like most European academics of the late 19th century, Gerome drew heavy inspiration from classic literature and mythology. His oeuvre included historical paintings, Orientalist portrayals, portraits, and mythology. And of his work, the one we remember most is Diogenes Sitting in his Tub, or simply, Diogenes.
Inspired by the Ancient Greek philosopher, the painting portrays Diogenes sitting surrounded by dogs in his tub. Those who know their history will know that Diogenes lived in a tub on the streets, befriended local stray dogs, and wandered the city in broad daylight carrying a torch demanding to see a “human being.”
True to the philosophy of Diogenes, Gerome’s painting shows off quite a lot of cynicism as the lonely man fiddles with his torch, surrounded by his furry companions. A keen eye can spot traces of Neoclassicism and Romanticism, as these were the two major influences on the academicism movement.
Animals as an art theme is nothing new—portrayals of members of the animal kingdom date back to prehistoric cave paintings. The Ancient World saw a lot of images of animals, and the trend continued well into the Middle Ages. So, the three artists mentioned in this article barely scratch the surface of “famous dog paintings.” However, when it comes to popularity, you are not likely to find many more popular pieces of art depicting our canine friends.