Phillips Petting Zoo: Pierre Bonnard

Installation view of two works by Pierre Bonnard in the Snapshot exhibition, both in the permanent collection at The Phillips Collection. At left is Dogs, 1893. Lithograph on Paper, 15 x 11 in. At right is Woman with Dog, 1922. Oil on canvas, 27 1/4 x 15 3/8 in. Photo: Joshua Navarro

When I entered Snapshot, the pairing of Bonnard’s painting Woman with Dog (above right) with his lithograph Dogs (above left) delighted me. By my count, the exhibition features five works in which Bonnard includes canines, and I love how each picture captures dogs doing what dogs do—begging, cuddling, running, playing, etc.

Look more closely at Dogs. Did you notice how the fluffy dog in the mid-ground is sniffing the rear of the pup he’s next to? Behind them, Bonnard includes three pooches in play bows as they get acquainted before galloping off. Do you see the black smears throughout the composition? Funny how they resemble paw prints, as though the pups ran across the surface of the composition. Continue reading

Phillips Petting Zoo: Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, The Ham, 1889. Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection. Acquired 1951. Photo: Claire Norman

This is a series is about animals, but no, this is not a post about the pig from which The Ham is derived . . .

Notice near the rim of the café table Gauguin signed the work “P GO”. The artist often abbreviated his signature with these initials and when you say “P GO” in French, it sounds indistinguishable from its homophone, “pego,” nautical slang for penis. This double entendre wouldn’t have been lost on Gauguin; he spent six years in the French merchant navy. On her blog, Tate Curator Christine Riding discusses how the museum almost called a children’s book on birds and animals in Gauguin’s art “P GO” until someone pointed out the name’s indelicate connotation.

Paul Gauguin, The Ham (detail), 1889. Oil on canvas, 19 3/4 x 22 3/4 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Acquired 1951. Photo: Claire Norman

In 1901 Gauguin settled on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands, and there he acquired a little dog he named “Pego.” Perhaps that’s him in lower right corner of the late painting, Marquesan Man in a Red Cape, although Gauguin painted many dogs throughout his career, including these adorable puppies.

In 1998 June Hargrove, my graduate school advisor, met Pego’s descendant pictured below; he lived on the grounds of the Gauguin Museum in Mataiea, Tahiti. The director of the museum told her that in the 1960s a scholar researching Gauguin received a canine descendant of Pego from someone in Gauguin’s family. He brought the pup to the museum. Apparently, by the time she took this photo, Pego’s progeny had populated the place.

Canine descendant of Gauguin's dog Pego. Photo: June Hargrove

Phillips Petting Zoo: Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919), Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881. Oil on canvas, 51 ¼ x 69 1/8 inches. Acquired 1923. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.

I’ve given lots of tours of Luncheon of the Boating Party, and almost every time I talk about it, someone brings up the girl in the lower left cooing at her dog. I have been known to make a pretty bad joke, saying, well how else would you know the scene is set in France without the dog at the table? Kidding aside, the pup in the painting plays an important role.

Ever notice how almost all of the characters in the artwork seem to be engaged in flirtatious exchanges, except the girl with the dog? Guess what—she’s Renoir’s girlfriend and future wife, Aline Charigot. With his education, Renoir would have known that dogs in art operate as symbols of loyalty and fidelity, that’s why people often call their pets Fido. So it’s not surprising Renoir would have painted his future bride nuzzling a cute little pooch rather than romancing another character in the painting.

In addition to Luncheon of the Boating Party, Renoir created a number of important works where dogs play a prominent role. Fifteen years earlier, he painted At the Inn of Mother Anthony, Marlotte (1866) featuring diners gathered around a table with a dog (a poodle? a Bichon frisé?) curled up underneath. At New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, check out his stylish portrait of the Charpentier family complete with their Newfoundland named Porthos.

Renoir depicted Aline in the company of dogs at least two other times. In The Apple Seller (c. 1890) she sits with two young children and playful dog. Thirty years after Luncheon of the Boating Party, he painted a tender portrait of an older Aline holding her new little puppy Bob.