Portraits of Dogs Throughout History
Portraits of dogs go back thousands of years to when dogs were portrayed on the walls of caves. The earliest depictions of canines were found recently in Saudi Arabia’s Shuwaymis and Jubbah regions showing petroglyphs (engravings) of dogs in hunting scenes dating back approximately 9,000 years. (1)
Throughout history, dogs have been portrayed in art as pets, in hunting scenes, and in marriage scenes representing marital fidelity and fertility. Dogs symbolize guidance, protection, loyalty, fidelity, and love. In Western civilization, the Greeks displayed a fondness for dogs in the form of sculpture, frescoes, mosaics and pottery. The ancient Roman empire emulated and copied depictions of dogs in Greek art but took it one step further, becoming the first to feed their dogs and show dogs as “Man’s Best Friend” – something we take for granted today.
The Japanese and Chinese have also incorporated dogs in their art. There were Royal Dogs in the Forbidden City during the Ming (1366-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. The Japanese created detailed carvings of dogs in their button-like toggles, known as netsuke, during the Edo period (1550-1868). By the Victorian era, after the creation of the Kennel Club in the UK in 1873 and the American Kennel Club in 1884, portraits of dogs became ubiquitous. Perhaps the most famous dog portrait during this time was one painted by Sir Edwin Landseer of a “Newfoundland Dog”. The dog was celebrated for saving several people from drowning in London, and was made a distinguished member of the Royal Humane Society honoured for its unique contribution as a breed. (2)
The 20th century has a contemporary version of a dog portrait in Jeff Koons’ “balloon dog” made from precision engineered, mirror-polished steel. His “flower dog” installation in front of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain is a larger-than-life pop art tribute to the ever faithful and beloved dog.
Marta Scythes Pastel on Paper Portraits
Today we take numerous photos of our dogs and share them with the world. But these capsules in time come and go, and sadly, our dogs’ lives last only a decade or two if we’re lucky. So if you’re looking for a portrait that will capture the unique personality and soul of your dog then a custom portrait commissioned by an experienced artist such as Marta Scythes might be the way to go.
Marta Scythes (BSc MScBMC MDes) has a degree in medical illustration and is a College professor. She became interested in drawing her own dog and began doing dog portraits for others while studying at art school. Her preferred medium for portraits uses a combination of pastels, charcoal, coloured pencil and wood cuts. When commissioned to do a portrait Marta ideally likes to meet the dog first and works from photographs. Her portraits seek to capture the essence of the dog using a series of contour drawings and colour swatches (to match the subject’s colouring). Another series of drawings by way of prep work help her to fine-tune details in the eyes and colouring. The final drawing, using pastel on paper, reflects Marta’s interpretation of the subject. Here she concentrates on parts of the subject, particularly the eyes, which can be rendered in high detail, whereas other areas of the portrait might be executed in a more interpretive and loose fashion. The result is a personal portrait that captures the dog’s unique charm and personality and that creates a lasting and fitting tribute for family members.
If you would like to commission your own dog portrait, feel free to use the contact form on this website. Marta will respond to your request directly. Although nothing can replace our beloved four legged friends once they are gone, an original portrait recognizes their special place in our hearts, and is something we can turn to, admire, and take solace in long after they are gone.
Disclaimer: Rogues’ Hollow Antiques receives no financial remuneration for any posts that promote third party talents or services.
(1) Borschel-Dan, Amanda (2017, November 24) Were Israel’s Canaan dogs man’s best friends 9,000 years ago? Retrieved from URL
(2) Cultural Depictions of the Dog, Wikipedia. Retreived from URL
– Dog portraits by Marta Scythes, courtesy of Marta Scythes. All rights reserved.