Gone to the Dogs

By Christopher Volpe

Dogs have had a prominent and popular place in art since ancient times. Man’s four-legged friends sit, romp, and roam throughout art history, especially Western art. As dogs became more domesticated, artists showed them as companion animals inside houses (or seated on women’s laps, a discreet way of alluding to sexuality). In painting, they came to symbolize fidelity, faithfulness, loyalty, social status, or alertness, guidance, or protection.

Perhaps the most famous watercolor dog painting is Winslow Homer’s boatful of beagles and retrievers waiting for the start of a duck shoot.

“Hunting Dogs, Waiting for the Start” (watercolor, 1889. RISD Museum) by Winslow Homer

Homer frequented a hunting lodge in the Adirondacks (partially visible in the right-hand background?). In this painting, Homer uses color to relate the backdrop of autumn leaves to the foreground ripples in the water and the other rusts, ochres, umbers, and blacks of the hunting dogs’ coats. The hounds, all anticipation and attention, seem alert and ready for anything – all that is except for the one facing us with that composed, seen-it-all look that dogs sometimes get (all dog owners have seen this look, and who can blame them really).

Can’t get enough of dogs in art? There’s a whole pack out there! You can browse one large and well-curated collection right over here. Better yet, paint your own furry friend!

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Kelly Kane
PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.


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