Man's Best Painting Friend
“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace.” – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being
According to my college art history professor, Richard Martin, whenever you see a dog in a painting its name is usually “Fido.” I often think of his lecture on the topic of symbolism in art, dogs in particular.
"The Marriage Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Arnoldfini" by Jan Van Eyck was an oil painting commemorating the wedding of Giovanni di Arrigo Arnolfini to his wife, Giovanna Cenami. Some people speculate from the bride’s appearance that she’s pregnant out of wedlock. But, Professor Martin had a different interpretation; her appearance was a wish that their marriage would produce many children. The painting is loaded with symbolism. The couple, depicted in their bedroom, has the image of St. Margaret (the patron saint of childbirth) carved into their bedpost. A small dog at their feet named Fido represents fidelity.
Two watercolors with dogs come to mind, "Woman with Collie" by John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn's watercolor “Clarence Barker” and I wonder if they, too, are symbolically named Fido?
I occasionally paint at Sunnybank; it's a public park near my home in Wayne, New Jersey, which overlooks the Pompton reservoir. It's the former estate of Albert Payson Terhune, who was an author and collie enthusiast. He may be most noted for of a series of children books about collies. Lad, a real dog, was the hero in many of his stories.
I've had dogs throughout my life and each holds a very special place in my heart. Max, a border collie and shepherd mix was my faithful painting companion for many years. He accompanied me whenever I painted on location. We would arrive at a spot, I’d set up my easel, he’d sniff around and then he would sit quietly a few feet away while I painted. Today, Clover is my painting dog. A golden retriever and border collie mix, she is very sweet and intelligent. Like Max, after a little exercise and some sniffing around she’ll sit and wait for me to finish my sketch, keeping a watchful eye while I work, and keeping the geese away with a stare.
Do you have a faithful painting companion? Perhaps someone that sits at your feet while you paint in your studio? Let me know, I’d like to hear about your faithful companion.