Dogs have long been a popular theme in art from all ages and all over the world.
Several famous works have used dogs in order to represent some subtext about their human counterparts, whereas some have made dogs the main subject of their art.
Below are examples of some of the most famous dogs in art.
The Arnolfini Portrait
Painted by Jan van Eyck in 1434, The Arnolfini Portrait is done in oil on oak.
The dog shown is an early form of the breed now known as the Brussels Griffon.
The two human subjects of the painting are the wealthy Italian merchant Arnolfini, who commissioned the portrait, and his wife. Both are shown in rich, colorful garments, which were created by the continual reapplication of thin, translucent glazes.
The dog in this painting featured in the lower forefront) as well as the glow of the clothes, underlines the wealth of the couple. In addition, Arnolfini’s wife is very obviously pregnant, and painted with a hand on her belly so as to emphasize this creation of a household begun by the addition of the dog into their family. The little dog as is interpreted to symbolize loyalty.
Eyck’s painting is not the first time an animal added to a painting is linked to the woman shown. Often animals painted alongside women were symbols of their sexuality. Interestingly, the addition of lapdogs especially were a way for painters to show women as sexual beings in an age when art was heavily censored.
Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor)
Painted by Diego Velasquez in 1656, during the Spanish Golden Age, Las Meninas shows the maids of honor preparing the Infanta, or heiress to the throne, for the day.
It is done in oil on canvas, and set in Philip IV’s Alcazar Palace in Madrid.
In addition to the inclusion of the dog, it is also one of the most frequently analyzed works of art in the Western canon because of the elusive quality of the Realism depicted and layers of detail. The young primary subject is surrounded by a lively hub including her maids of honor, chaperone, bodyguard, court dwarfs in addition to the dog. Velázquez includes himself as well, at work on an oversized canvas.
This dreamlike take on life was a focus of Spanish art at the time, as seen in the play Life is A Dream by Calderón, and of course in Don Quixote.
The dog in this painting not only adds to the incredible detail of the painting, but also reminds the viewer of the youth and childlike nature of the Infanta depicted.
Boy with a Dog
This 1905 painting, done in pastel and gouache on cardboard by Pablo Picasso, also links its canine subject to the youth of its human counterpart.
Created during the Expressionist period in art and Picasso’s own “Blue Period,” this dog—unlike many others who are painted in as near afterthoughts to their humans—splits center with the boy in the painting.
With ears cocked and ready for mischief, and fur the same shade as the boy’s clothes, the dog and the boy are clearly partners in crime and are tied to one another.
Picasso also was fascinated by horses and painted many in different styles.
Boy and Girl Gazing at the Moon
Norman Rockwell created this image for the April 24th cover of the “The Saturday Evening Post” in 1926.
Part of the Regionalism movement and done in oil on canvas, today reproductions of this iconic piece are often used on Valentine’s Day cards.
One alternate title to this painting, Puppy Love, says it all. The sweet and innocent love between the boy and girl watching the evening sky are represented by the adorable puppy, whose direct eye contact with the viewer makes it a main subject of the painting.
Last but certainly not least is the Blue Dog, part of a series by American artist George Rodrigue, who passed away only recently in 2013.
The dog became the focus of many of his works from the 1990s onward. Though the paintings are based off of the Louisiana werewolf legend of the loup-garou, the shape and stance came from his pet dog Tiffany.
The Blue Dog was made popular by Absolut Vodka in 1992 as part of an advertising campaign. Rodrigue has said of the blue dog that, “The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog. He has this piercing stare.
People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different. People who have seen a Blue Dog painting always remember it. They are really about life, about mankind searching for answers. The dog never changes position. He just stares at you. And you’re looking at him, looking for some answers, ‘Why are we here?,’ and he’s just looking back at you, wondering the same. The dog doesn’t know. You can see this longing in his eyes, this longing for love, answers.
More Places You’ll Find Dogs in Art
Looking for more dog-themed art? Check out Art Show at the Dog Show, a fine arts competition judged by a jury of past winners that focuses solely on art representing or including canines. The competition has unfortunately been canceled for 2016, but past winners are available on the website!