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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

My favorite scene in the movie 101 Dalmatians is near the beginning, when Pongo is looking out the window of his bachelor pad, trying to find a suitable match for Roger and himself. The women who walk past are all perfect caricatures of their dogs: an art student with long straight hair covering her face and her Afghan hound, a woman wearing a fashionable fur-trimmed suit with her French poodle, a little girl with a puppy, and a barrel-chested woman with her bulldog. Ever since I saw this as a child I have enjoyed looking for similarities between people and their pets. Fortunately, I now work at the Archives of American Art, where our collections are rich with photographs of artists and their pets. Seriously, if someone wants to write their dissertation on which dog breeds were preferred by 20th century artists in America, please give us a call. What I've found is that though there is not always a similarity in looks, artists certainly choose pets which appeal to their sense of aesthetics. Here is just a smattering of examples from our collections:

[Jackson Pollock with his dogs]
Jackson Pollock with his dogs, ca. 1955
Here is the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock with his dogs Gyp and Ahab. I wouldn't expect anything other than a shaggy mixed breed for Pollock, the man who played it fast and loose with a paintbrush.

[Rockwell Kent playing in the snow with his dog]
Rockwell Kent playing in the snow with his dog, ca. 1935
Rockwell Kent, known for his sleek, athletic representations of the human form, picked for himself a sleek, athletic Great Dane (which, amusingly, is almost exactly as tall as he is).

And finally, Diego Rivera. No French poodle or Irish wolfhound or German shepherd for the man who celebrated Mexican culture in his powerful murals. Nothing but a Xoloitzcuintli (also known as a Mexican hairless dog) would do.

So really, do let us know if you want to do research on the pets of artists. I even have a title worked out that I'm happy to share.

Pointers and Painters: The Significance of Pets in the Lives of American Artists

--Bettina Smith, Librarian for Digital Collections, Archives of American Art


  1. Love it! I won't volunteer to do the dissertation (one's more than enough, thank you very much), but now I'm curious to know if the Archives of American Art only collected paper-based material from these artists, or if you also have acid-free boxes with ethafoam liners housing dog dishes and tooth-marked tennis balls.

    1. Nothing dog-related that I know of, but we definitely have some artifacts of the non-paper-based persuasion:

  2. Great blog post, Bettina! This could be a really interesting exhibition too.