May 26, 2021

Like cat and dog pets in paintings of old masters


Weronika Daniluk


"Everyone is Napoleon to their dog. That's the reason why dogs are so popular."

Aldous Huxley



Apparently, among all the other divisions, people are also split into those who prefer dogs and those who prefer cats. It is no different with the greatest masters of fine arts. Salvador Dali? Cats (wild). Pablo Picasso? Dogs. Nonetheless, you do not need to be a painter to have your own preferences in this aspect.

Everyone will find something interesting among the works offered at the “Big Ones for the Small Ones Auction. Artists Help Animals", which is organized by Desa Unicum auction house for the second time in aid of the Wielcy Małym Foundation (Big Ones for the Small Ones Foundation), associated with VIVA! magazine. All proceeds from the auction will go to shelters and foster homes. This year, more than 1,700 dogs, 500 cats, and 60 other animals will receive help. The funds will be provided to eight shelters in Poland (Korabiewice, Łódź, Skierniewice, Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Kruszewo, Gliwice, Boguszyce Małe, and Głowno).


We invite you to familiarize yourself with the auction offer, which includes works by such artists as Józef Wilkoń, Franciszek Maśluszczak, Stasys Eidrigevicius, Anna Gruszczyńska, Anna Bimer, Katarzyna Januszko, Piotr Młodożeniec, Stanisław Młodożeniec, Rafał Olbiński, Artur Przebindowski, Marek Ruff, Wiesław Szamocki, or Marcin Rząsa.

Peter Paul Rubens, Cztery kontynenty, 1615, źródło: WikiCommons


Animal motifs have been naturally reoccurring in arts for centuries. It is enough to mention the scenes in the Lascaux cave from the Paleolithic age or the marble copy of the Greek Molossus dog sculpture, currently in the collection of the British Museum. Moreover, animals in art often carried a symbolic meaning. At the turn of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, bats, nocturnal animals, were identified with one of the four temperaments (moods) - melancholy, which was to be characteristic of scholars and geniuses. Albrecht Dürer's famous engraving "Melencolia I" (in the collection of the Albertina Museum in Vienna) refers to these symbols. Depictions of bats can be found in the ornaments of Kazimierz Jagiellończyk's tombstone, carved by Wit Stwosz at the Wawel Cathedral. In Peter Paul Rubens' painting "The Four Continents" (at the Art History Museum in Vienna), the crocodile represents the allegory of Africa and the Nile, and the tiger symbolizes Asia.

Jan van Eyck, Portret małżonków Arnolfinich, 1434, źródło: Wikicommons


In his full of symbolism "The Arnolfini Portrait" (at the National Gallery in London), Jan van Eyck painted a small, shaggy dog at the feet of newlyweds. Among numerous other, concealed and still not fully identified symbols in this masterpiece of Dutch realism, the dog may be interpreted as a symbol of marital fidelity.

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656- 1657, źródło: Wikicommons


On the other hand, in Diego Velázquez's painting "Las Meninas" (at the National Museum in Prado), which shares in common with van Eyck's painting the reflection of people outside the main composition hidden in the mirror, we see a mastiff in front of Infanta Margaret, placed in the foreground, on the right side of the composition. The dog was a gift from James I Stuart to Philip III Habsburg (grandfather of the young princess). Funnily enough, three hundred years later, the mastiff turned into... a dachshund. And not just anybody's dachshund. In a series of fifty-eight paintings, while recreating the work of his fellow countryman, Pablo Picasso (at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona) depicted his beloved pet named Lump. The Spaniard had many dogs, including an Afghan hound, but it was the dachshund that completely stole his heart.

Pablo Picasso, Las Meninas, 1957, źródło:

In the artist's words:

"Lump, he's not a dog, he's not a little human, he's somebody else."

David Douglas Duncan, the original owner of the dog stated:

"It was a romance. Picasso took Lump in his arms. He fed him from the hand. Holy Dogs (sic!), this little dog took the power. He was in control of the whole house."

William Hogarth, Autoportret z psem, 1745, źródło: Wikicommons


The pug, William Hogarth's dog, which the artist depicted, among others, in his self-portrait ("The Painter and his Pug" at the Tate Gallery), even has his own Wikipedia page.

Gustave Courbet, Autoportret z czarnym psem, 1844, źródło: Wikicommons


21-year-old Gustave Courbet, in his "Self-Portrait with a Black Dog" depicted himself as a fashionably dressed dandy (work at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris). It may be exemplified by the wanton, yellow lining, which was purposefully exposed by rolling up the coat. The artist looks from the painting at the viewer in a defiant, direct way. He is confident about his talent and career, standing (sitting) on its threshold. With his left hand, the Frenchman hugs a dog that... resembles him. Not surprisingly. After all, it has long been said that owners look like their pets (or vice versa). In some cases, the boundaries are so blurred that it is not even known who is taking whom for a walk. Fortunately, the animals from the paintings "do not speak".