Whether they be big dogs, little dogs, sporting dogs, lap dogs, all dogs get their moment in The Book of the Dog, recently released by authors Angus Hyland and Kendra Wilson. Both a lesson in art history and a playful ode to man’s best friend, the book highlights the role of canines in painting from the 1700s until now, spanning the imperial court painters of China’s Qing Dynasty, the French Impressionist school, 21st century illustration, and everything in between.
Featuring artworks made commercially and privately, for wealthy clients or for the artists’ own personal satisfaction, The Book of the Dog runs not chronologically but thematically, touching down on different breeds and their relationship to man. Though the text will certainly tickle the fancy of lovers of specific breeds, the book as a whole is a paean to dogs of all kinds, and ultimately, to their unwavering loyalty.
Hyland and Wilson begin their opus with a single passage from D.H. Lawrence: “Nothing but love has made the dog lose his wild freedom, to become the servant of man.” Indeed, the book that follows is a testament to the ways in which these animals have left behind their feral instincts to sit for and please their human companions, but it’s hard to accept after reading this book that these creatures could ever be named our “servants.”
Instead, the dog emerges here as our lifelong muse, the one species that can bring out the most dear sentiments and urge our paintbrushes to time and again pay tribute to his likeness. From Francisco Goya and his enigmatical portrait of a lonesome dog, painted on the walls of his house and never meant to be seen by the public, to David Hockney, who couldn’t bear to sell or part with his portraits of his dachshunds Stanley and Boodgie, these masters of their craft are outdone only by their faithful furry friends.
Note: Images in gallery have been adjusted for size.