D13EGO’s work Love Love Love places a pug centrally on the canvas. The dog’s face stares out vacantly above graffiti style platitudes, as if it were completely detached from its new-found fame and the humans that worship the breed.
Like D13EGO, Stella Kapezanou explores the absurdity of the human-canine relationship. In her dog painting, Greener Grass, the artist evokes and upends the traditional picnic scene. Set against a bright, utopian colour palette, the woman has no other human company – just her dalmatian for company.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, many wealthy women kept dogs as companions, turning the creatures into status symbols. When Dutch painter Jan van Eyck included a small wiry lap dog in his iconic Arnolfini Portrait depicting an Italian merchant with his wife, the dog was a nod to the couple’s high social standing. In Lavina Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman from the late 16th century, the small brown-and-white lap dog played a similar role. Clawing at its mistress, the dog functioned as yet another symbol of status, alongside the sitter’s extravagant dress and elaborate jewels.
During the following centuries, dogs’ role in painting shifted as they became a symbol of sport. Throughout the 1800s, many dog paintings focused on the foxhound and artworks showed packs of hounds streaming over British landscapes. Notable sporting artists including John Ferneley and Henry Thomas Alken.
At the same time, other painters were giving dogs a new and leading role in their work. English painter, Edwin Henry Landseer, was well-known for his dog paintings and portraits. The Newfoundland dog featured in his picture A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society was apparently a shipwreck survivor who made his own way to the capital where he earned a reputation for saving people from drowning in The Thames. As a result of his heroics, he became an honorary member of the Royal Humane Society, inspiring Landseer’s artwork.