So cavaliers are the most popular subject of dog art!

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Bonhams/Doyle New York, New York City

Top Dogs

by Lita Solis-Cohen

Heavy snow and driving winds in Manhattan did not deter dog lovers from bringing their pets to auction house breakfasts at Bonhams and Doyle New York on Sunday morning, February 12. The aftermath of the blizzard of 2006 did not deter bidders at the sales on Valentine's Day at the two New York City auction houses. The salesrooms were nearly full, and there was plenty of bidding on the phones and on the Internet.

Annual dog art sales in New York coincide with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. For the last eight years Doyle has hosted a Sunday dog brunch, and this year a Barkfest at Bonhams was a fund-raiser the day before Westminster began. DOGNY, an American Kennel Club tribute to search and rescue dogs, was the beneficiary of the Sunday morning party at Bonhams, and Angel on a Leash, a therapy program at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center, was the charity focus at Doyle. Everyone who attended the parties gave $50 to charity and left with doggie bags filled with catalogs, magazines, and treats.

Bonhams came into the dog picture market this year when paintings specialist Alan Fausel left Doyle's for Bonhams. He joined up with Bonhams London painting specialist Charles

O' Brien, who consigned some fresh British pictures, and Bonhams' larger sale took a significant share of the market.

Just as the dogs competed at Madison Square Garden, the auctioneers vied for the top dog pictures. The winner this year was a painting of 13 foxhounds and one terrier, New Forest Foxhounds, by the British artist John Emms (1843-1912), that Bonhams sold for $843,250 (includes buyer's premium). It is a record for the artist, topping the previous Emms record, $708,695, paid at Christie's London on May 21, 2004, for Hours of Idleness, a painting of just seven dogs in a kennel.

Emms was at the peak of his career when he painted the 14 dogs at the Furzey Lane kennels. Moreover, the painting was accompanied by the original signed key showing the names and birth dates of each dog. It came straight from the family of Henry Martin Powell, J.P., master of the New Forest foxhounds of Wilverley Park, Lyndhurst, Hants, who commissioned it.

"Emms's fluid brushwork appeals to collectors today," said William Secord, a recognized expert on dog art. "There is a continuing search for the best material, and prices are going higher and higher," added Secord, who had just returned from selling dog paintings at the very fancy Palm Beach! America's International Fine Art & Antique Fair.

Paintings fresh from England were well received. Bonhams got $150,250 for Emms's painting of eight Dandie Dinmonts, far exceeding the $40,000/60,000 estimate. The preceding lot, a smaller (17¾" x 24") Emms painting of Ch. Edenside, the champion Dandie Dinmont in 1887, sold for $29,875 (est. $10,000/15,000). Not every Emms sold. Another Emms picture of seven hounds at a kennel, 16½" x 20¾", estimated at $70,000/90,000, found no one willing to bid up to the reserve.

Bonhams' biggest surprise was the $47,800 paid for 12 small 19th-century dog portraits in two frames by Edwin Frederick Holt (est. $3500/5000). Each portrait was signed, and each dog was identified. Six of them were dated from 1865 to 1873. A Scotch terrier, a King Charles spaniel, a greyhound, and a Saint Bernard were among them. "They were named dogs of collectible breeds, well painted, and fresh to market," said Secord, explaining that some breeds are more collectible than others. "No one buys German shepherds, yet they are popular dogs," he said. "Pictures of cavalier King Charles spaniels are the most collectible dog pictures."

There were dog pictures for every pocketbook. At both auction houses, the majority of pictures sold for less than $5000. At Bonhams, a portrait of a Pekingese named Tang-Hi, a 16" x 24" oil on canvas, sold for $2031.50, close to its $2000 low estimate, and a portrait of a wire-haired terrier, Champion Newmarket Cackler, signed and dated 1908 by Alfred Grenfell Haigh, sold for $3585 (est. $2000/3000). But then a head and shoulders portrait of a pair of wire-haired terriers, just 17" x 21" but painted with verve by British artist Lilian Cheviot, sold within estimate for $14,340.

Of the 250-plus lots Bonhams offered, 65% sold for nearly $1.7 million, a record for a dog art auction. Most of the lots that did not sell were in the category of dogiana; a group of cold-painted Austrian terra-cotta figures of dogs were overestimated and ignored. Some paintings with high estimates were not embraced.

Pictures of hunting dogs were among the best in show. An oil painting of a gamekeeper with two dogs, The Gamekeeper's Companions by John Sargent Noble, 28" x 36", sold for $22,705 (est. $12,000/18,000). British artist William Woodhouse (1857-1939) painted setters with their game. Two of these pictures sold above or at the high end of the estimates for $16,730 and $20,315.

The top dog at Doyle New York was Raring to Go, a 30 3/8" x 44" painting of seven English setters waiting impatiently at a fence, signed by Edmund Henry Osthaus and dated 1908, that sold for $60,000, its high estimate.

Last winter, Doyle got $590,400 for a pair of paintings by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge of dogs playing poker and smoking cigars. Coolidge worked for the advertising firm Brown & Bigelow, St. Paul, Minnesota, early in the 20th century, and many prints of his paintings of poker-playing cigar-smoking dogs were made.

This year, Doyle offered Coolidge's 1908 A Fairy Story, 18¼" x 24", depicting a large Irish setter wearing spectacles reading a book to a young spaniel. Estimated at $25,000/ 35,000, it sold for $28,800.

Of the 148 lots offered at Doyle, 116 sold for a respectable 78% sold total but a grand total of only $437,772. Their biggest disappointment was Frederic Remington's Running a Coyote with Hounds in Southern California, a grisaille oil on canvas study of large greyhounds in pursuit, made for an engraving in Harper's Weekly, 1890. Estimated at $70,000/90,000, it failed to meet its reserve and was returned to its owner.

The market for dog paintings is segmented, said Secord. "Some collectors are interested in the two hundred breeds and their ancestry and buy historical dog portraits. Those who shoot buy pictures of sporting dogs, but the largest segment like pet portraits. Collectors love looking at pictures of dogs that remind them of their positive associations," he said.

Art museums have an interest in dogs in art. There is a dog art museum in St. Louis, the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog. William Secord wrote the catalog, A Breed Apart. Secord's Dog Painting 1840-1940: A Social History of the Dog in Art, now in its sixth printing, is the bible on the subject.

The Bruce Museum of Arts and Science, Greenwich, Connecticut, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston are organizing a survey of the dog in Western art, Best in Show: Dogs in Art from the Renaissance to the Present, with 50 paintings, sculptures, and photographs, which opens on May 13 at the Bruce Museum and continues there until August 27. It will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and be on view there from October 1, 2006, to January 1, 2007. There will be works by Paulus Potter, Jan Weenix, Gerrit Dou, Frans Snyders, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, George Stubbs, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Andrew Wyeth, William Wegman, and Lucian Freud, among others, who depicted sporting dogs and pampered pets from the 17th century through Pop art and post-modern art.

Art historian Robert Rosenblum, Secord, Edgar Peters Bowron, curator of European art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Carolyn Rose Rebbert, curator of science at the Bruce Museum, have contributed articles for the catalog to be published by Yale University Press.

For more information, contact Bonhams at (212) 717-9001, Web site (; Doyle New York at (212) 427-2730, Web site (

© 2006 by Maine Antique Digest