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Art for all with Paul Keevil

A carved marble dog
by Anne Seymour Damer (1748-1828)

Offered by Christie’s, King Street saleroom this week is a highly sensitive and personal representation of a dog, which is ascribed as being a Bichon Frisé by Christies.

Its attribution to the controversial, but highly gifted sculptress, Anne Seymour Damer, is based on stylistic comparisons to two similar compositions; a marble group of Sleeping Dogs carved in 1784 for Damer's brother in-law, the 3rd Duke of Richmond for Goodwood, Sussex and a terracotta Dog at Chillington Hall, Staffordshire.

The latter, a similarly sized terracotta model of a single dog, is perhaps closest in its technical approach. Firstly, it is a portrait of the same breed of dog, but beyond that, it is exemplary of the interest the artist had in the deeply carved, overlapping, locks of fur. In relation to the Goodwood pair of Spaniels however, Damer approached the composition in a much more playful and emotive fashion. The pair are carved with less attention to the sharpness of the details, but with greater expression and humour. Furthermore, while the Chillington terracotta represents the dog in an adoring, upward, gaze, the Goodwood marble (and the Christie’s lot) are represented in a casual every-day pose.

As a female member of late Georgian aristocracy, Damer was highly unusual in her pursuit of a career in the world of sculpture. While Walpole's praise for her yielded much criticism (she being considered as nothing more than a competent amateur) she became an 'honorary exhibitor' of 32 works at the Royal Academy (1784-1818) and the author of numerous public monuments throughout Britain.

As an 'amateur' in her art she was fortunate enough not to have been affected by the demands of the market, allowing her, therefore, to sculpt according to her own inclinations. This is perhaps what motivated her to carve her highly sensitive, and sentimental, portraits of animals.

Although the researcher Percy Noble pieced together a relatively complete inventory of Damer's works in 1908, her dying wish to destroy all her personal documents has resulted in an academic void regarding the artist's life. Of the six sculptures of dogs that Damer exhibited at the Royal Academy, three are known to have been terracottas, one, the Goodwood group and another, a lost portrait of her whippet, Fidele. This leaves one tantalisingly ambiguous entry from 1800 of A Lap-dog. A second possibility lies in a reference Noble makes to another unaccounted for marble. He relates that Damer had presented Queen Charlotte with a marble dog, which, on her death passed into the collection of her eldest daughter Elizabeth. After Elizabeth's death in 1840, her possessions were bequeathed to her siblings and friends in England. The whereabouts of that dog also remain unknown.

The sculpture was exhibited at the Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque, USA 'Hounds in Leash', January - April 2001. It measurers 15in. (38.8 cm.) high and Christie's placed a pre-sale estimate of £60,000 - £90,000 upon it.