A Dog's Life: Images from Dürer to Wegman

Wednesday January 22, 2003 - Friday March 7, 2003
A Dog's Life: Images from Dürer to Wegman

Albrecht Dürer, St. Eustace, ca. 1500-01, engraving; gift of George W. Davison (B.A. Wesleyan 1892), 1949

A Dog's Life presented a history of dogs in art spanning five centuries from the Renaissance to the present. Themes represented included dogs as hunters and domestic companions, dogs enacting human emotions and moral characteristics, and dogs as endless sources of humor and delight.

Mythological subjects in the exhibition incorporated fashionable dogs such as the one represented in Albrecht Dürer's St. Eustace; but perhaps the most posh was the spaniel in James Watson's Portrait of a Dog Belonging to Lord Edward Bentinck.


Just as human figures in art over the ages change in style and meaning, so too do their canine counterparts.

James Watson after George Barret I, Portrait of a Dog Belonging to Lord Edward Bentinck,1768, mezzotint; Friends of the Davison Art Center funds, 2002

In the nineteenth century there appeared many sentimentalized images of canines enacting human emotions and morals. These included L.-N. Lepic's For the Poor, an etching of a dog begging for money. A supporter of bills against cruelty to animals, Queen Victoria might have taken that print to heart. "No civilization," she stated, "is complete when it does not include the dumb and defenseless of God's creatures within the sphere of charity and mercy."


Similarly arresting the viewer's attention and sympathies were the dogs photographed by Louis Faurer and Elliott Erwitt. These twentieth-century images refer back to a long tradition in which dogs appear to speak with human voices.

Elliott Erwitt, Irish Wolfhound with Stick, 1971, gelatin silver print; gift of Morton Reiser, M.D., 1982

The exhibition also included prints that use dogs as surrogates or emblems of the human condition. William Wegman's dogs defy traditional categories of canine representation. For instance, his Bat Bite might have been conceived as a scene based on nineteenth-century female odalisque compositions. But the semirecumbent Weimaraner (Battina) is teething, and Wegman photographed her just as she turned her head around to chew on the chair back.

In his 1988 book The Dog in Art, Robert Rosenblum wrote that images of dogs are revealing of their place and time:

"For of all animals, dogs continue to play roles that mirror most closely the activities and needs of the humans they live with."


Peter A. Juley and Son, Percival Rousseau in the Field Painting a Dog, ca. 1930-35; gift of Janet and Lewis Lehr, 1982

Wednesday 22 January - Friday 7 March 2003

A gallery reading in conjunction with "A Dog's Life" was presented by Elizabeth Bobrick, Visiting Assisant Professor of English, Friday, February 7 at 5:30 p.m. This event was free and open to the public.

On Sunday, February 9 at 2:00 P.M., Gallery Supervisor Will McCarthy presented "It's a Dog's Life," an interactive workshop in which children of all ages learned about the ways in which dogs have been used in art for the past 500 years. Admission was free.