At Christies sale of British Pictures (1500-1850) on 22nd November 2006 a rare example of a classical dog painting by George Stubbs (1724-1806) went under the hammer, writes Paul Keevil.
Lot 54 was given the rather long, but very descriptive title of ‘A red and white dog, in a landscape, a fortified tower and an estuary beyond’. It was an oil on canvas, measuring for Stubbs a rather modest 25 x 30 in. (76 x 63.5 cm.) and was described as being ‘The Property Of A Gentleman’
The picture was painted in 1775, the year Stubbs first began exhibiting at the Royal Academy after achieving particular success in London at the Society of Artists, of which he was to hold the presidency in 1772-73. Over a quarter of Stubbs' exhibits at the Royal Academy for the next eight years were portraits of dogs, reflecting not only the public demand for such works and the fact that the artist's chief income came from such commissions, but also Stubbs’ growing fascination with animals.
It has been suggested that the ancient castellated tower rising above a lake is almost identical to a detail in the background of Stubbs' Portrait of a Horse named Euston, belonging to Mr. Wildman, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1775. Both paintings appear to have been completed in the same year, so perhaps this rather portly Spaniel was also owned by Mr. Wildman too? It is an unusual feature that appears to be unique to these two works. Stubbs excelled at painting animals as he saw them, rather than for their immaculate grooming.
Christies felt this the dog was clearly a cross-breed of sorts, whose age is uncertain and breed indeterminate. To quote directly from Christies’ catalogue ‘It is not a Spaniel, although it resembles a Blenheim Spaniel in its red and white colouring. The head is closer to that of a hound or gun dog, and the dog's body has something of the form of a Collie. Its somewhat overgrown, or perhaps elderly, appearance suggests some years of service in the field, in which the dog has lost none of its alertness. Its ruffled coat is exquisitely suggested’: You be the judge.
George Stubbs was born in Liverpool in 1724 and is regarded by many as the most important sporting and animal artist of all time, this no doubt helped the painting on its way. Christies had placed a pre sale estimate on the painting of £250,000 - £400,000 but it eventually sold in the room for a massive £960,000.
Paul Keevil may be contacted via his web site CanineArtConnections.com