The Art World Goes to the Dogs: Pup Portraits Gain Popularity

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William Secord, president of William Secord Gallery, unpacks paintings in his New York gallery on Feb. 29, 2012. The William Secord Gallery in Manhattan is the only gallery in the nation dedicated exclusively to dog art.

Animal lovers, you can now frame your photos of Fido with pride. “Dog art” is the new trend de jour in the upscale art scene, with portraits, paintings and sculptures of everyday animals fetching record-breaking prices and capturing the attention of the art world’s most critical connoisseurs.

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From “dogs only” auctions to galleries entirely devoted to canines on canvas, the canine market has taken quite a bite of the art world. At Bonhams’ annual Dogs in Show & Field auction, which is hosted after the Westminster Dog Show, not one, but two records were broken for dog paintings by artist William Henry Hamilton Trood. His piece “Dejeuner,” a painting depicting dogs and cats eating from a large dish, sold for $194,500. An hour later, the record was defeated again when Trood’s “Hounds in a Kennel,” showing six dogs watching a bird, sold for $212,500.

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“The dog art market is certainly turning a corner,” Alan Fausel, vice president and director of fine art at Bonhams auction house, told the Associated Press. But while dog art is gaining popularity, not just any old puppy picture qualifies as “fine art.” According to Fausel, most of the art sold at auction are 19th century pieces, while a few contemporary artists have been able to break into the market, as well.

In New York City, the William Secord Gallery is devoted exclusively to showcasing dog art, and we’re not talking about cartoonish pictures like Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s classic series, “Dogs Playing Poker.” While the gambling canines have received their share of acclaim, Secord notes that these paintings wouldn’t be considered “dog art” because the images are not realistic. (We have a feeling that dog-focused Internet memes are out, too.)

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While there are some restrictions on what qualifies as “dog art,” the subject matter often remains true to current culture. According to Fausel, 50 years ago, Collies and German Shepherds were popular subjects because of the television shows Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. Today, contemporary artists may paint Labrador and Golden Retrievers, who are currently two of America’s favorite breeds. Historically, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is the most popular dog ever painted, perhaps because of its majestic roots.

So while some people may think that painting a portrait of your dog is a little out there, you can explain that you’re not just some crazy animal lover — you’re an artist, hoping to strike it rich in the world of contemporary dog art.