Tag Archives: Dog Related

The V&A Presents: Paw Prints

Last month, to commemorate the end of Crufts, Cathrin Yarnell decided to showcase some of the V&A’s many dog-related prints, drawings and paintings. Her post, titled ‘Paw Prints‘, can be seen here and I recommend it to avid dog-lovers and canine art appreciators alike.

Personally I was delighted to see that some of the canine motifs that my thesis will cover are presented in this doggy display.

The dog mourner is readily shown with Landseer’s prominent The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner, while the dog as a saviour (in this case of children) is shown through the typically noble Newfoundland in a print simply titled The Newfoundland Dog.

The rising popularity and diligence of dog portraiture is represented readily in the image of Rodney by Byran Edward Duppa. Yarnell is eager to point out that this portrait of Rodney “has been executed with all of the care of a human portrait”, a concept that shall be explored in my own work.

The final print in Yarnell’s post does well to illustrate a range of canine motifs that were popular in Victorian Britain–The dog as saviour (or both man and child), the noble dog of the aristocracy, the dutiful and humble dog of the countryside, and the dog as comfort and aid to beggars, to name a few. It is nice to know that such motifs still capture people’s imagination even today.

Breed Standards Have Gone to the Dogs


While it is outside of my current research scope, some of my readers might be interested in this recent article from the Daily Mail online concerning the differences in pedigree dogs from 1915 to our current canine companions.

The original post that inspired this news can be found on the blog of Mus Musculus, PhD, titled Science of Dogs. He has also since revised that post, adding skull comparisons in addition to photographs.

While the images in the blog post may be disturbing enough for some other bloggers have responded in kind to Musculus’ blog post, by posting some images of their own.

One such blogger is Jemima Harrison, director of the BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed and owner of a blog of the same name. Looking at both the Daily Mail new report and the original blog posts, Jemima provides further examples of the Basset Hound, the German Shepherd, and the Dachshund in her own post.

While some might find Jemima’s blog to be controversial, the comparisons brought to light (by Musculus’ posts, at least) show the troubling developments that have occurred to the breed standard of some dogs over the past 100 years.

With such issues currently at the forefront of public concern, studies into the development and cultural treatment of the dog throughout history become all the more socially relevant.

University of Plymouth Conference, The ‘Arts’ in History 2012


Theme: How the ‘arts’, and the way they have been studied over time, offers an insight to societies of the past and present.

Talk Time: 20 Minutes

Title: Canine Contexts: Understanding the Role of the Dog in British Victorian art.

Location: Plymouth University, Roland Levinsky Building.

Date: 15th June

Abstract: Once one asserts the notion that art reflects the time within which it was made, it can be proposed that every element within visual culture comes with its own notable history; influenced by the society and culture within which it was produced.

This paper aims to explore one seemingly unassuming, element within Victorian visual culture; that of the dog.

Using the painting Work (1852-65) by Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) as a case study, this paper will demonstrate the significance that social and cultural contexts played within the placing of the dog in both fine art works and other visual mediums of the Victorian era. Looking at a multitude of issues; from pet keeping and dog shows to dog thieves and ‘mad dogs’; each dog within Work shall be explored and elaborated upon within this paper, including the widely unmentioned or unnoticed ‘fifth dog’ in the artwork.

Through this, visual representations of dogs within Victorian visual culture shall be argued as adding a canine context to artworks of the time; reflecting wider issues such as those of class, human identity and the crossing of public and domestic spheres, and contributing to a more profound understanding of the artworks they occupy.

The eventual realisation that viewers should gain by the end of the talk is that not only are representations of dogs within Victorian art significant, but they are also dependant on an in-depth understanding of the historical, social and cultural contexts within which they were produced.

Force of Habit in Punch, or the London Charivari , London, England, October 22, 1864, New Readerships, p. 168.

Force of Habit in Punch, or the London Charivari , London, England, October 22, 1864, New Readerships, p. 168.

AAH New Voices Conference 2011


Theme: Madness & Revolt

Talk Time: 20 Minutes

Title: The Dog Days: Canine Class Contagions and Political Parodies in Victorian Visual Culture

 “The pattern of public response to rabies outbreaks demonstrated the extent to which the disease existed in the realm of rhetoric. The first alert was ordinarily sounded by the press, rather than by medical authorities or government officials, and it was often couched in terms that seemed calculated to inspire and exasperate fear”

Ritvo, Harriet, The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age, Cambridge, U.K.; Harvard University Press, 1987, Pg. 171.

In Victorian Britain rabies and hydrophobia, its then human counterpart, provoked a myriad of reactions in both academic fields and the public sphere.

Amidst these reactions grew a sense of magnitude to the disease which vastly surpassed the objective realities- a growth constructed and propagated through representations of dogs parodied in the popular media of the time, as highlighted in the above quote.

This paper aims to explore this sensation of Victorian visual parodies of canine madness through an exploration of the press’s representations of mad dogs- Proposing that the conceptual construction of the rabid dog became used as a conduit for social and political commentary.

This shall include a heavy focus on class anxieties; exploring middle class fears that rabies had the ability to infect and corrupt, not only the body, but also the integrity and class of society, demonstrating representations of this in visual media.

The paper shall then progress to look at the mad dog’s representation, and prompting of, criticisms of the legal system- through the visual analysis of encounters between dogs and mockingly inept and overwhelmed Police Officers turned Dog Catchers.

The paper will end on the exploration of why rabies and the madness of dogs prompted such swift interaction and embellishment from the Press, and such a public unrest, proposing media parody as a form of revolt.

Cave Canem, Or Dog(berry) Law, Punch (London, England), Saturday, September 14, 1867; pg. 106.

Cave Canem, Or Dog(berry) Law, Punch (London, England), Saturday, September 14, 1867; pg. 106.

In Pictures: Dogs Through the Centuries

If you’re as fascinated by dog-related art as I am then pop over to the Tate Blogs right now where you can find a collection of dog portraiture on display as a slide show.

The blog entry can be found here and features brilliant artworks such as William Hogarth’s The Painter and his Pug, Thomas Gainsborough’s Tristram and Fox, and Sir Edwin Henry Landseer’s Dignity and Impudence.

A particular favourite of mine (besides the obvious Landseer pieces) is William Blake’s Cerberus, depicted in a style that is typically Blake. it is the facial expressions on this hound of hell that has me looking at the artwork with fascination.

A ‘Major’ Discovery


A few days ago the University of Manchester shared the news that UoM historians (the same responsible for the wonderful ‘Breed’ exhibition that I previously wrote about) have discovered the first ‘modern dog’, Major—who supposedly heralded in the practice of judging dog breeds by a physical standard. The article can be found here and is an interesting read.

Whilst people are already questioning whether or not this is really can be considered the first time that a breed standard based on physical traits has been seriously attempted, I’ve decided, instead, to share a few of my own thoughts about this discovery—which is an important one, whether or not it marks the first attempt of such practices—or, to be more accurate, the publication behind this discovery.

Whilst I do not own an extensive collection of ‘The Field’ journal, I did, a few months ago, chance upon a book called ‘Dogs of the British Islands’ at auction, and eagerly purchased it (the 1867 “edited collection” mentioned in the news report). This book is essentially a compilation of the breed standards set by ‘The Field’, accompanied with reader’s responses; providing a wonderful mish-mash of serious attempt to define breed standards and scathing reviews of the dogs chosen to set the standards followed by rebuffs (sometimes from the very owner of the chosen dog). So, what do I think of this compilation of ‘The Field’ and its thoughts?


Naturally, my interest in such publications can be drawn back to my Art Historical roots.

The way that dogs were expected to be judged not only off of the measurements provided in such Journals but off of the illustrations is fascinating to me. Through such processes we see the dog in nineteenth-century British practices not only becoming more regulated and standardized but also, notably, more visual—judged as a aesthetic object in their own right. Through this transition images of dogs became used interchangeably with dogs that were present to be judged on their own merits, causing a fascinating interchangeability when it came to what a dog ‘should’ look like.

This can be observed in ‘The Field’ itself as, when considering the standard of Setters, it was noted that, in order to set a standard of “beauty and excellence” [i]:

“We have carefully criticized the portraits of every celebrated setter whose memory has been perpetuated by the painter, and we have gone as far as the year 1822.” [ii]

Going on to determine that:

 “A careful comparison of these portraits with our recollection of the best models exhibited during the last five years, leads us to the conclusion that if these engravings are faithful representations of the departed setters, we possess dogs far superior to the dogs of our forefathers” [iii]

And, whilst ‘The Field’ was eager to highlight the fallibility of portraiture, claiming that “our critique on the portraits of dogs must scarcely be looked upon as a criticism of the dogs themselves”, it still, regardless, continued to “enumerate the portraits we have seen”—going on to dedicate more than a page to the judgement of dogs in portraiture as if the dogs in the artworks were being shown in front of their very eyes—and even contributed to the propagation of the aesthetic standard of dogs through a heavy use of engravings.[iv]


Although I have come to no solid conclusions concerning the extent to which this practice was prevalent (nor its ultimate significance) I can make one tentative assertion in this early stage of my research. The implications of this, when considering the popularity of dogs in Victorian art, are of great importance, and something I plan to keep at the front of my mind throughout the duration of my research. As such, if Major is considered as the first example of a ‘modern’ dog, through the standards by which he is judged, then ‘The Field’ can be considered as equally significant for developing early examples of the developing aesthetic existence dogs.

The first? I’m not so sure, but worthy of regard none-the-less.

[i] Dogs of the British Islands, p.3.

[ii] Dogs of the British Islands, p.3.

[iii] Dogs of the British Islands, p.3.

[iv] Dogs of the British Islands, pp. 3-4.

2011 Poster Exhibition

When I was still doing my undergraduate degree I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to be part of a poster exhibition arranged by Plymouth University. This poster exhibition was part of a showcase of undergraduate research, and aimed to demonstrate the elements that went into a research project.

My poster in situ.

My poster in situ.

For my poster I chose to highlight the sources which an undergrad might consult as part of their research. The idea of the posters was to keep them short and simple, so my sources took the form of a list.

The final drafts and design of my poster was undertaken by a design student and I was blown away when I saw the final version. I truly am grateful to have been given such an opportunity and to have been able to show how much hard work goes into research (even at undergraduate level).

‘Breed’ Sets the Standard


Thoughts on ‘Breed: The British & their Dogs’

Walking through to the main entrance of the Manchester Museum as it stands today, one could not possibly miss the recently opened exhibition ‘Breed: The British & their Dogs’, as it’s wonderful entrance wall—adorned with black & white photography of man’s best friend, welcoming dog lovers and curious passers-by alike through its inviting archway.

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The Black Dog’s Progress

In this post I’d like to go off-theme a bit and briefly explore a short animation that has stayed with me as a personal favourite since I first saw it on Channel 4 in 2008. Stephen Irwin’s ‘The Black Dog’s’ progress was originally commissioned by Animate Projects as a web-exclusive however, with a bit of help from Arts Council England funding, it was instead broadcast on Channel 4 as part of a show called AnimateTV.

Irwin himself encourages the film as something that can be re-watched and explored at the viewer’s own pace and, once ‘The Black Dog’s Progress’ has been viewed, one can see why Irwin encouraged a few re-watches (at least!). The frantic and non-linear ensemble of this animation’s narrative can leave the viewer’s eyes darting from one frame of this grim (but compelling) tale’s flip-book structure to another, not wishing to miss a single moment. However, with the help of a spotlight as a guide, the main story still manages to entice the viewer’s attention—allowing them to share in the tragic experiences of this animation’s naïve protagonist, the black dog.

Whilst I encourage people to watch the animation themselves (despite its possibly disturbing themes) I’ll also give an overview of this animation as I interpret it.

As the first flip-book comes to view on a rather blank screen the black dog is seen popping out of a birthday box, ready to be welcomed into his new home with open arms. This moment, however, is short-lived as the young boy starts to sneeze and the now-unwanted dog is swiftly and unsympathetically thrown into the trash.

It is at defining point of abandonment—in which the black dog falls out of the trash can, and finds himself questioning exactly where he may find his home—that the neighbourhood starts to expand. Both the troubling, erratic flip-book imagery and the sinister music make it apparent that the black dog’s story shall not be a happy one and, as a spot light comes to guide us along the dog’s journey, it’s not too long until this suspicion is confirmed.

Reaching out hopefully to a potential new owner the black dog finds his paw sharply bitten off, as all it can do it scream out in pain. Screaming out, but with no home to rest in, the black dog continues to desperately try and find a home, paw prints of blood seen behind him.

Unfortunately this neighbourhood offers no respite, and the black dog finds himself being literally consumed by his next ‘home’, as the carnal desires of the home’s owner mean that the black dog soon finds himself the distressed victim of bestiality. Screaming out once more.

The experience leaves the black dog bleeding once-more, and not even things that we would usually associate with innocence and childhood (a balloon and a flower with a smiley face) can offer solace to the black dog. Emaciated and exhausted by his search for a home all the black dog can do is vomit on the flower whilst bleeding—any sense of his initial hope and naiveté lost in the moment.

In the next point of progression the dog’s expression has changed dramatically. Far from looking hopeful or victimised the dog instead looks determined. Placing on boots (with one foot still bleeding heavily) he ventures onwards.

This moment is very interesting from my point of view. The way I have chosen to interpret this is that the dog now wishes to try its original home—the genesis of its progression and the only point where he actually encounters a friendly face (if only for a moment) in the form of the boy he is gifted to. However, with the boys allergies to dogs he cannot go back in his current state and so he determines to change himself, become something that the boy will not sneeze at, become human.

In the tragic conclusion, however, by the time the black dog gets back to his original home his experiences at the hands of the worst of humankind has changed him irreparably and he returns home a monstrosity—not human, nor dog, and certainly not welcomed by the mother of the home.

As he looks down at the mother of the home with a pleading expression the mother doesn’t hesitate to burn him where he stands. The black dog lets out one final scream of pain (symbolised to great effect by the musical score of this animation) as the word unravels around him—flames, blood and black smoke bleeds outwards from various points until we are left with very little (and yet so much) to look at. In this jarring conclusion we are left with the title of the animation ‘The Black Dog’s Progress’.

For their efforts when it came to ‘The Black Dog’s Progress’, Stephen Irwin & Sorenious Bonk both received high acclaim—with ‘The Black Dog’s Progress’ winning the Best Short Film award, and Sorenious Bonk being awarded the Best Sound award at the 2010 British Animation Awards, and this comes as no surprise.

Technically ‘The Black Dog’s Progress’ is impressive. Over 50 flip-books were made in order to represent all of the various scenes, and these were hand-drawn, scanned and then assembled in Photoshop before becoming the finishing project that we see on the screen. Composer Sorenious Bonk also does a fantastic job with the accompanying music for this animation—as violins, double bass, trumpets, percussion a mandolin and a 100-year-old autoharp came together to collaborate near seamlessly with the catastrophic adventures of the black dog.

Meanwhile the motivations and the inspirations for ‘The Black Dog’s Progress’ don’t go unnoticed within the animation itself. Irwin claims to have taken inspiration from William Hogarth’s ‘A Rakes Progress’ and, like a Hogarth, his anxious narrative allows the viewer to look at ‘The Black Dog’s Progress’ over and over again and still manage to spot some new element and there’s that sense of multiplicity.

Irwin’s tragic animation was also inspired by a news story he had heard, in which a woman who had tried to get rid of the family dog numerous times without success decided to set it on fire, only to have the fire spread and kill her young children. This can be seen in the animation as the mother of the story is represented as a body with a giant mouth on her head—she has no eyes and doesn’t judge the situation, she only shouts orders, commands and reacts instead of viewing the black dog’s plight, or alternative methods of re-homing the dog. This is her eventual downfall, as her fire burns and destroys the animation, leaving only blood.

In this way it can be assumed Irwin was also trying to make a nod back to the inspiration of Hogarth’s artwork, as Hogarth, too, was known for trying to depict the issues of the day in his busy moral narratives.  However, this is where the clear parallels end and, at the end of the day, as much as I adore ‘The Black Dog’s Progress’ I can’t help but feel that this inspiration point is unclear at points.

Whilst ‘A Rake’s Progress’ takes on Tom Rakewell and its ‘modern moral subject’, and makes an example out of his foolish choices to succumb to the temptations of the opulent world of depravity and self-destruction that he found himself in (despite the many chances of redemption he gets in the form of the poor, but moral, Sarah Young), the black dog is simply a casualty of the abusive neighbourhood that it has found itself in.

The lack of agency that the dog has and it’s simple and understandable drive to find a home means that, far from being a ‘modern moral subject’ the black dog is the innocent party within an abusive landscape—the overall moral message, as Irwin highlights, concerning animal cruelty. As such there is a mismatch, a misunderstanding or perhaps just a deliberate oversight of the key structure of ‘A Rake’s Progress’ (and Hogarth’s moral narratives in general) and, whilst Irwin would perhaps suggest that the black dog is metonymically aligned with Tom Rakewell, I personally cannot help but see him as more aligned with the victimised dog from ‘The Four Stages of Cruelty- The First Stage of Cruelty’—who finds itself subject to Tom Nero’s cruelty, as him and his friends hold the dog down whilst an arrow is inserted into the dog’s anus.

However, despite this, ‘The Black Dog’s Progress’ does not lack anything as a result of this divergence, and manages to stand alone as a very strong piece of animation that, for some audiences (such as myself), will resonate with the viewer long after they have seen it.




For more on Stephen Irwin why not check out his website?

Heads and Tails

T. Landseer, The Dog Bill Committee, 1844, Print on Paper, Private Collection.

A little excerpt I thought I’d share from Punch-

Heads and Tails

The uncertainty manifested by the Head of Departments as to the execution of the order enjoining the muzzling of all dogs in the Metropolis on the 31st inst., has naturally excited a great deal of commotion in canine circles, and a representative meeting was accordingly held yesterday afternoon in a field adjoining the Dog’s Home, at Battersea, to deal with the subject.

A St.-Bernard, who took a first prize at the last Dog Show, having been unanimously voted to the Chair, was greeted with a prolonged wagging of tails and said:—He felt he need hardly enter upon the circumstances which had occasioned the present meeting. There had been a good deal of talk, one way and the other, about their species of late, and probably owing to the Mansion House move in favour of the Pasteur System, and an isolated case or two of Hydrophobia—(growls)—the usual scare had got up, and as a consequence, the Authorities had decreed that they were all to be muzzled for six months. Personally, he was indifferent to the manner, and if his owners chose to strap up his face in a leathern or wire cage whenever he took his quiet and sober walks abroad, he could only suppose that in subjecting him to the humiliation, they could not help themselves. Still, though sedate himself, he could well enter into the feelings of his more frisky and lively brethren who felt the restraint keenly, and he thought, as there seemed to be no one capable of putting the order in force, that an opportunity was certainly presented of asking the HOME SECRETARY whether, under the circumstances, it wouldn’t be wiser, to reconsider the matter altogether, and revoke the order while there was yet time to do it.

[Barks of approval, and prolonged wagging of tails.

A Drawing-room Pug, who spoke with some difficulty, owing to chronic indigestion, said that of course if the order were in force it couldn’t possibly apply to him, as he took only exercise in a carriage round the Park, perched up on a feather cushion, with a piece of blue ribbon round his neck. As to the common class of dogs who went about on foot, he really didn’t see why they should object to being muzzled. The order didn’t touch him, and he didn’t care.


A Bloodhound said, that to hear a mere show dog, who was out of it himself, express his opinion in that cool fashion, made his blood boil. The very thought of a muzzle almost sent him off his head. How could he, he should like to know, follow up a trail and catch a murderer by the throat, if he couldn’t use his teeth? (Barks of approval.) All he could say was, that whether the order was passed or not, he wouldn’t advice any policeman who values his calves to come meddling with him.

[Much wagging of tails.

A Punch and Judy Dog, who was warmly greeted, said he should like to know whether the Authorities meant to clap a muzzle on him, and expected him to go through his performance (pert of which, as they probably knew, consisted in catching hold of Punch’s nose) under impossible conditions? If so, it would be nothing more or less than putting a complete gag on him, and he might as well retire from the business altogether. He felt strongly on the subject, for he spoke not only for himself, but on behalf of his artistic friends who preformed at Music Halls and elsewhere, and who certainly could not be expected to climb up chairs, wear cocked hats, and jump through paper moons with their heads banged up in wire or leather in accordance with a degrading police regulation. (Growls.) All he could say was, the if Mr. Matthews ignored their petition, he might as well consign them to the Lethal Chamber at once. But her trusted matters would not come to pass as that.

[Loud barks of approval.

A Blind Man’s Dog wanted to know how he was to get through his business, and be expected to collect pence holding a tin-pot in his mouth, if he had a muzzle on? The thing was preposterous.

A Scotch Terrier wished to ask the Chairman if it was true that a Member of Parliament had absolutely proposed the muzzling of cats.

[Wagging of tails indicative of much merriment.

A Dachshund replied that he was glad to say it was. He said he was “glad to say” it was, because such a proposition amounted to a reductio ad absurdum of the whole question. If these manifestly inferior domestic animals were to come in for the muzzle, they would be wanting to apply it next to the rats and mice. This made thoughtful people, who see they don’t know where to stop its use, naturally ask what made them begin it. For his own part he had never come across anybody who had been bitten by a dog.

A Westmoreland Collie owned that, when he first came up to London he certainly did catch hold of a postman or two by the leg, but he added it was done out of pure fun, and that he hadn’t a touch of rabies about him. He would propose that a deputation be appointed by the Meeting to wait in the HOME SECRETARY, and ask him, seeing that a hitch had occurred in carrying it into execution, to reconsider his order.

[Barks of approval.

The Chairman the put the Motion to the Meeting, and it was carried unanimously, upon which, amidst a prolonged wagging of tails in manifestation of satisfaction, and a general chorus of barking in approval, the proceedings came to an end.

Punch, or the London Charivari, August 3rd, 1889, p. 53.