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.
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).