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The Loyd Grossman Lecture:
Ten Masterpieces of Man’s Best Friend

Loyd Grossman on the stairs at the Institut Français leading to the Ciné Lumière in London last week, prior to giving his lecture on ten great masterpieces of the dog in art.

In autumn 2001, The British Museum’s public campaign to save the huge and important Roman classical dog statue The Dog of Alicibiades, was boosted by a £100,000 donation from The Art Fund, which assisted in the raising of the £662.297 necessary to keep the work in the UK, writes Paul Keevil.

As part of The Art Fund’s series of spring lectures, held at that hidden gem of a central London venue, the Ciné Lumière, at the Institut Français, South Kensington, Loyd Grossman, using the saved roman masterpiece as his starting point, looked at 10 great images of the dog in art.

Probably best known for his TV programmes, Masterchef and Through the Keyhole, what is not so well known about the UK domiciled Bostonian, is that he is currently Chairman of the Campaign for Museums and a commissioner of both Resource and English Heritage, in addition to being a patron for the NCDL.

The 10 works chosen for analysis at the lecture were:

1) Dog of Alicibiades, described as the most important classical statue surviving from the Roman era and now resident in the Great Hall of the British Museum.

2) Egyptian stele (monumental stone) to Pharoah Antef II, showing three Greyhound “type” hounds in what Loyd Grossman described as “the finest and earliest depiction of specifically different types of dogs”.

3) Vittore Carpaccio’s St. Jerome in his Study; in which the artist gave St. Jerome a tiny canine playmate to give light relief from his labours over biblical text.

4) Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s The Dead Wolf, Grossman described Oudrey as one of the two finest dog painters of all time.

5) William Hogarth’s famous 1745 self portrait with his Pug, Trump.

6) Sir Edwin Landseer’s portrait of Prince Albert’s favourite Greyhound bitch, Eos, described in the lecture as “The Mount Everest of Dog Portraiture”.

7) Sir Edwin Landseer’s, The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner, the famous painting of a Collie resting its head on the coffin of his recently deceased master, after all other mourners have left.

8) Francis Barraud’s His Master’s Voice, painting of Nipper, the ever familiar corporate image for HMV/EMI limited. Grossman observed that Nipper’s quizzical expression had an almost “Mona Lisa” quality to it.

9) Francois Pompom’s depiction in bronze of a standing Boston Terrier, perhaps chosen in deference to the speakers own origins.

10) Franz Marc’s 1912 painting The Dog in Front of the World being a powerful embodiment of one of mankind’s most unanswerable questions: What do dogs really think of the world and their masters? This painting now hangs in a private collection in Switzerland.

It was obvious to me from this lecture that not only did Loyd Grossman have tremendous academic knowledge of his subject but also a great affection and sense of irony which allowed him to poke gentle fun and not only the seriousness of art and it’s scholars, but also himself.

In the lively question and answer session, when asked which contemporary artists he thought might be regarded as the masters of the future, Grossman raised a few eyebrows with his choices. These were David Hockney for his portraits of his Dachshunds and in particular the recently deceased “Stanley”. William Wegman, the New York photographer internationally famous for his anthropomorphic studies of his Weimaraners and Thierry Poncelet, the Belgian painter who is celebrated for his over painting of 19th century classical portraits with dogs heads.

It did not go unnoticed that all three possibly take their subject matter less seriously than the classical dog artists of the past, which no doubt added to their appeal to Mr Grossman as his choices for the future.

Loyd Grossman’s versatility as academic, humourist and well known TV presenter were brought home to me whilst I was killing time at Victoria station, waiting for my train home. Popping into the in-station store, I could not resist the purchase of a bottle of the good gentleman’s Tomato and Basil cooking sauce, which contains the legend: “I made them - so you wouldn’t have to”!!