Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eternal life for a dead bloodhound

Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) was the premiere painter of dog portraits of the nineteenth century. Jacob Bell, aware of Landseer's reputation, commissioned him to paint his favorite bloodhound, Countess. But Landseer took a long time getting around to the commission.


One Sunday evening the dog lost her footing on a second floor balcony and fell to her death. The next morning, Bell carried the carcass of his beloved pet to Landseer's door and knocked. He knew that Landseer was busy and hated to be disturbed.

Seeing the dead dog, Landseer declared, "This is an opportunity not to be lost. Go away. Come back Thursday at two o'clock."

Landseer arranged the dead dog in a sleeping pose as he was accustomed to do with his anatomical studies. When Bell returned at the appointed time, the portrait was finished. 

Richard Ormond, in his well-illustrated biography of Landseer, observes that "There is more than a hint of rigor mortis in the dog's stiff legs, and a general air of decrepitude not inconsistent with death. The atmosphere of the picture, with its dramatic contrasts of light and dark, is somber and haunting. Landseer's sympathy with his subject has an elegiac quality, a lament for death and old age in general."
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11 comments:

Leif Peng said...

Great story and wow! - what a magnificent painting!

LG said...

touching story and piece

Tom Hart said...

Another gem of a post (and painting), James!

I was pleasantly surprised to see that my library has the Ormond book. It's out now, but I hope to have it soon. I knew of Ormond's works on Sargent, but didn't know of his work beyond JSS. I'll have to see what other treasures I can discover through him. Thanks James!

Janet Oliver said...

I've always loved not only the unsurpassed quality of Landseer's animal paintings, but also the emotive quality he invests in the animals. One of my favorites is "Alexander and Diogenes" in which two dogs represent the fabled meeting between the Greek ruler and the philosopher. It's said that Landseer was inspired to make the painting upon encountering two dogs in the street, one looking at the other from inside a barrel. It's also reported that the painting was the inspiration for the anthropomorphic dogs in Disney's "Lady and the Tramp."

Joshua Hendry said...

Just got my copy of Color and Light. FANTASTIC!!!! Thank you James.

Poet Whale said...

The bloodhound looks very much alive to me.

Rich said...

Good old dog;
very faithful painting.

"Rigor mortis"? Always something to learn here...

K_tigress said...

That's so sad.

But you know, I some how don't feel right to paint a pet when its still living. Some how I'm afraid that if I paint a portrait, that the pet would be on its way to the rainbow bridge the next day. I know its an irrational fear but you know?

James Gurney said...

K- yes, I do. Not so much with pets, but with buildings and such. So often after I paint them they get torn down. I try not to get superstitious thinking about it.

Hey, Joshua -- been a long time since you ran across me painting in that rainstorm in Black Diamond! Hope you're well, and thank for picking up the book.

Poet, Rich, and Janet, yes, it's too bad Landseer isn't better known these days. To think he did all this before the era of photography boggles the mind.

Tom, we all owe Mr. Ormond a huge debt of gratitude for his scholarship.

Leif, I love the stories (and pictures) you tell on the Today's Inspiration blog.

Ravay Snow said...

Great post, James!

An artist friend forwarded it to me--as I am now painting animal portraits--and I'm happy to say this has not yet happened to me!

This is a bit off-topic, but I wanted to (very belatedly) thank you for the lovely drawing you did for me in your Journey to Chandara book several years ago. I don't know if you remember, but we had lunch together 3 or 4 years ago at the Denver SCBWI conference and got to talking about odd musical instruments (I play the hammered dulcimer and your son had just decided to go busking around Europe playing the button accordion)...I really enjoyed our conversation, but we both had to dash off after lunch and I ran away without even realizing that you had put a lovely little T-Rex PLAYING THE HAMMERED DULCIMER in the front of my book!

So thanks very much--I had never acknowledged how special that was to me!

ayumi said...

It surprises me no one has mentioned

Jack Hamm´s Drawing scenery and Landscapes on this book list.

He really is a bit underrated