According to Richard Kay, picture specialist and director of Lawrences (22% buyer’s premium) of Crewkerne, “the glossy, detailed high finish that collectors used to admire is less important than canine charisma these days”.
This, he says, does not include the comically ‘contrived’ subjects, such as dogs walking on their hind legs or smoking cigars in pseudo- Churchillian poses, demand for which has softened in recent years.
Rather, it is the charm found in more sophisticated depictions of dogs that have a personality beyond the simple likeness achieved in a portrait.
Moreover, “a numb, statuesque quality is easy to spot in subjects painted from photos and they are generally less popular”, he adds.
On the chase
An auction at the Somerset saleroom on April 13 featured canine subjects by two artists who worked from life rather than photos.
One of these, an energetic work by leading early 20th century animal painter Arthur Wardle (1864-1949), topped the sale.
Estimated at £5000-7000, The Chase is Better than the Catch depicts two boisterous terriers chasing a hare. The signed 14½ x 20in (37 x 52.5cm) oil on canvas had come from a long-standing collection in Northern Ireland.
In fresh condition and of an ideal size, it attracted private interest from Australia and the US before selling to a trade buyer in central England on the phone for £9200 – among the higher sums achieved at auction for a work of this scale.
Wardle painted all manner of animals, both domestic and exotic, but his depictions of terriers are considered particularly commercial on the secondary market (like spaniels and labradors, terriers are among the most popular breeds for collectors).
Wardle’s painting The Totteridge XI (1897) showing 11 fox terriers is probably the best-known painting of the breed and is owned by The Kennel Club.
Terriers were also a favourite of Cecil Aldin (1870-1935), another 20th century painter who painted from life and is probably best known for his sketches of dozing dogs.
At Lawrences, a small group of eight unframed works on paper from a local private source raised £9950.
Although in a “slightly rumpled condition”, they had “Aldin’s natural ease of fluent draughtsmanship and instant, perfect understanding of the dogs’ demeanour”, said Kay. The group had the extra appeal of depicting the artist’s own dogs.
The eight lots were bought by six different buyers, a mixture of private and trade, with some keen underbidding from private collectors.
Among the top-sellers was a 12 x 9in (30 x 23cm) black crayon and white bodycolour sketch of Cracker, Aldin’s favourite English bull terrier. It sold for £1600 against a £700-1000 estimate.
Also bettering guides were two drawings of a dozing wolfhound, possibly the artist’s Irish pet Mickey, which sold for £980 and £1400.
Paw prints charming
Plenty of charm was evident in a 17th century Old Master canine painting offered in Essex saleroom Sworders’ (23% buyer’s premium) inaugural auction of sporting art on April 25.
The 3ft 5in x 4ft 1in (1.03 x 1.24m) oil on canvas of four hunting dogs in a landscape was catalogued as ‘Dutch School’. It was dated 1648 and appeared to be signed Horn, although the auction house was unable to establish anything about the artist.
Estimated at £2500-3500, it initially drew four phone bidders before two dropped out around the £10,000 mark. In the end it was knocked down at £61,000 to the Leeds and London dealership, Tomasso Brothers Fine Art.
The firm declined to comment on whether it had uncovered anything more on the picture.
Sworders specialist Jane Oakley said: “Dog paintings of this period don’t come onto the market very often, so it drew a lot of attention from the trade and also private buyers. Coupled with the added ingredients of being fresh to the market from a local private source, we expected it would do well.”
The result came two months after Cambridge saleroom Cheffins sold a portrait of an Italian mastiff by il Guercino (1591-1666) for £570,000 – the highest auction price for a picture in the English regions so far this year.