We would like to introduce you to Theo the Art Dog (seen here in his puppy days), who will serve as your guide to look at the role that dogs have played throughout the history of art.
Theo was named after another "Theo" who was involved in the arts: Theo Van Gogh, brother to the one and only Vincent Van Gogh. Theo Van Gogh (1857 – 1891) was an art dealer who worked at galleries in the Netherlands, Brussels, London and Paris. Theo the Art Dog is a connoisseur who spends his time in New Jersey, not far from the art-filled city of New York.
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Theo the Art Dog would like to make his debut with a look at one of the most-famous dog paintings of all time: A Friend In Need, one of a series of paintings of dogs playing poker, painted by C.M. Coolidge, seen below.
Coolidge painted this image as part of a series of sixteen paintings of dogs playing cards, commissioned by a company called Brown & Bigelow, to be used in a marketing campaign to promote cigars back in the early 1900's. Over the past century this image has been reproduced a countless number of times and has gained a high level of recognition, despite not being considered a "fine" work of art. The image pervades American culture in a way not unlike images of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, and other iconic images. (A Google image search for "famous paintings" finds this one at the #2 spot)
And what about Coolidge himself? He was born in upstate New York, and settled in Rochester, NY as an adult. He didn't have any formal training in art, but liked to draw and got a job creating comics for his local newspaper when he was in his twenties. It is not clear how he received the commission for the series of cigar paintings, but it remains his best-known body of work.
Here's something crazy to consider, though: not only did Coolidge create this series of paintings which became instantly-recognizable icons, but he also invented and patented something that also exists to this day: something that he called "comic foregrounds." You see them at the mall, on the boardwalk, at festivals and just about anyplace. They're the things that are usually painted on wood and have a hole so that you can stick your face through and pose for a picture. You can see some examples of "comic foregrounds" below. Coolidge made numerous different comic foregrounds, and started a mail order business selling them, which provided most of his income later in his life. It was enough of a business that Coolidge had to hire local art students to assist with production!
To learn more about C.M. Coolidge, check out his Wikipedia page here.
Here's Theo the Art Dog imitating a Francis Bacon painting. And here's Theo with his sister Violet the Expressionist Pup acting like Francis Bacon paintings.
We hope to have Theo the Art Dog look at more dog art here soon, and we'll add links to other features here once we have them.