Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Josephine's hound

When Paulus Potter died of tuberculosis before he was thirty years old, he had already profoundly influenced the way animals are depicted in European art. Potter created portraits of animals, making them his picture's focus, not just a backdrop for human action. He is said to have wandered the Dutch countryside, sketchbook in hand, equally sensitive to how farm animals behave at different times of day and to light's vicissitudes from morning to dusk. Few of his contemporaries were more attuned to nature's moods or to the timeless harmony of beast, landscape, and weather. Potter's etchings show the same sensitivity as his paintings.Although Potter is considered a minor painter today, in the 1800s, Potter's life-size The Young Bull was as famous as Rembrandt's Night Watch.
The Wolfhound is one of the great dog portraits. The dog commands the scene. There are no humans in view to master or upstage it. It stands in formal pose in front of its artist-signed house. It is probably a guard dog, it is on watch. It is chained and the picture suggests it lives by itself on the edge of the land, away from human habitation yet supplied with chunks of raw meat. In the distance we see a typically Dutch landscape: the bank of a river, a cow drinking, trees, a church, a huge sky.
Interestingly, the dog seems to have no tail.
This painting is part of Empress Josephine's Malmaison Collection at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The museum houses the finest paintings, sculpture and decorative arts that she acquired for her château of Malmaison which was given to her by Napoléon after their divorce. She was entitled to retain the title of Empress and continued to live like one, despite being unable to rely exclusively on state funds for her various architectural and collecting projects. Although Josephine's great love was porcelain, she also actively collected paintings, such as Paulus Potter's imposing Wolfhound which she bought in 1811. By then she had built a top-lit gallery at Malmaison in order to house her ever-growing collection, estimated at over 250 paintings in 1811 and 350 at the time of her death three years later. She must be acknowledged as one of the most important patrons and collectors of the age even though that by the time of her death, many bills had gone unpaid for years and her creditors were so numerous they had to be listed alphabetically.


Anonymous said...

In my opinion, dogs deserve a prime place in a painting at any time.

Crystal xx

jmb said...

I guess her collection was broken up after her death to pay the many creditors.
I suppose dogs were working dogs in Potter's day, treated differently from today.

Winchester whisperer said...

How interesting. I didn't realise she had such an artistic bent.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

What a wonderful lesson in art history, eurodog. I knew nothing about Potter and hadn't realised Josephine was such a great collector. I've always wanted to visit MAlmaison.

VioletsVintage said...

I love the old style paintings of dogs. Some of my favorites are the sporting dogs. My grandmother had an antique portrait of a setter in her hallway and when ever I see thee old style paintings I remember visiting her when I was small.