There is no better way to pay tribute to someone you love than dedicating something beautiful to them, something you’ve created. You know there’s never been a writer who hasn’t dedicated a book to his or her lover, or a singer who hasn’t written entire albums for their long lost love.
I suppose it then makes sense that artists paint not just their lovers but also their best friends. In some cases, their best friends happen to be their dogs. Also the fact that dogs symbolize loyalty and companionship could explain why they have been and remain a consistent feature in art, even to this day. In the 20th century, they continued to pervade pop culture but in a different way- various brands began adopting man’s best friend as a symbol or logo for their businesses.
Without further ado, here are a handful of some rather well-known dogs featuring in popular art- if you haven’t heard of them, well, here you go!
‘Dogs Playing Poker’ by C.M. Coolidge (1903)
If you’re not already familiar with this series of paintings, you must have at least chanced upon a parody at some point or another. The collection of 16 painted by C.M. Coolidge at the turn of the 20th century depicts anthropomorphized dogs, and the most famous of the lot (called ‘A Friend in Need’) sees these dogs playing- what else- a game of poker. Initially incepted as an advertising campaign for a brand of cigars, the paintings eventually gained widespread fame, more specifically becoming a staple in middle-class American home decor.
Amongst other interpretations, many saw this as depicting society as a whole; with surviving being compared to a poker game, and likening the lesser people (smaller not merely in size but in societal strength) to the two bulldogs who are playing against the 5 bigger hounds, and being forced to help one another by cheating. From another perspective, one could see it as the two bulldogs being wily and having the upper hand, since it seems, on closer inspection, that the one that is cheating has the most number of tokens. Go figure.
‘Itzcuintli and Me’ by Frida Kahlo (1938)
Frida Kahlo was famed not merely for her strong eyebrows and magnificently Mexican painting style, but also for her resoluteness of character and perseverance. A devastating freak accident early in her life left her semi-paralysed and unable to bear children. Months on end of being banished to her bed led her understandably to become depressingly lonely. Amongst other animals and objects (think a multitude of dolls as well as animals like monkeys and birds), she sought solace in her dogs, one of which she’d painted in this 1938 portrait.
This kind of dog was considered rare and incredibly expensive at that point in time. In the painting, though, she seems distant from him, sitting behind in what appears to be a heavy black velvet dress, folded arms holding onto a cigarette. What is interesting, however, is how the dog is the exact colour of her dress, perhaps suggesting some kind of affinity with the tiny four-legged one. Once again, go figure.
‘Las Meninas’ (reinterpretation) by Pablo Picasso (1957)
Don’t underestimate the tiny figure at the bottom; Picasso’s relationship with his Dashchund named Lump was a rather significant one. He came to mean so much to the painter that he went so far as to describe him as ‘.. not a man, not a little man, he’s somebody else’. Lump, his loyal compatriot, was a fixture of many of his paintings (making frequent “cameos” if you will), and while Picasso prefered to work alone, he would often be accompanied by his furry friend.
Their love story is an intriguing one, at best. Lump initially belonged to photojournalist David Duncan, who had brought him over one day when going to the artist’s mansion to photograph him. Whilst having lunch, Picasso painted Lump a portrait on his dinner plate, right then and there, and gifted it to Duncan. It goes then that Lump felt immediately at home and went on to stay with him for six years. The humble hound had so much affinity with the artist he tragically passed on just ten days before him.
Dog graphics by Keith Haring (1980s)
Image: Keith Haring
Surely we must all be familiar with Keith Haring’s recurring dog motif. Much of his graffiti-inspired artwork is very symbolic. His work is characterised by bold, thick lines, eye-catching colours, and a copious amount of wriggly lines that presumably indicate movement.
While most of his drawings have political symbolisms (for example, the cross to represent religion, the heart for love and TV’s to represent mass media), the dog icon seems to not have any explicit symbolism, though some say it could indicate action or suspicion. Other interpretations also lend that the standing dog figure could represent an authoritarian government or abuse of power, especially where they are depicted as barking at one another in what appears to be a state of rage. Interestingly too, one might take note that when the standing dogs are depicted alongside ‘human’ figures, they appear significantly larger. Food for thought, we say.
Jack Russell by HMV (founded 1921)
Do you know what HMV stands for?? Fun fact, it’s an acronym for His Master’s Voice, the title of a painting on which its logo is based off (done by Francis Barraud of the dog Nipper listening to a cylinder phonograph, a contraption brought in by the Gramophone Company- who later became HMV- in 1899).
Eventually the painting was adapted into something simple and graphic, with the baby pink and Jack Russell-looking-into-gramophone pairing becoming instantly iconic, nearly as identifiable as McDonald’s notorious golden arches.
Bassett Hound by Hush Puppies
Image: Hush Puppies
The mascot for Hush Puppies was chosen to reinforce the “fun, irreverence and optimism” of the Hush Puppies brand, as the creators say. Initially when promoting themselves, the advertisements placed him in unusual situations for a fun edge. In fact, one ad saw the namesake pup paying homage to Marilyn Monroe, posing on a subway grate as air from the train blew its ears over its head like a skirt! This tongue-in-cheek campaign earned Hush Puppies a Golden Lion award at the 1989 Cannes Advertising Festival. It was also named one of the Top 50 TV Commercials of All Time.
(Feature Image: Dogs Playing Poker)