The Dog Museum of America is not only the only fine arts museum devoted to the dog in the United States, it is the only such museum in the world dedicated to man's best friend.
It was founded in New York in 1982 and was moved to St. Louis in 1986. It is housed in the historic Jarville House (1853) in Queeny Park.
The museum owns close to 2,000 works of art — paintings, sculptures, ceramic figurines, pastels, prints, drawings and photographs — fewer than half of which are on display at any given time, director Barbara Jedda McNab says.
Several works are by major 19th century artists, including canvases by Sir Edwin Landseer, Queen Victoria's favorite painter, and sculptures by Antoine-Louis Barye, the leading French animal sculptor.
But what makes the museum fun is that it doesn't just hold out for art that might fit comfortably into a general art museum like, for instance, the St. Louis Art Museum. (Which, by the way, has two superlative dog paintings on view — one by Landseer, the other by Courbet.) The Dog Museum shows everything from high to low with all the levels in between.
People are also reading…
It might not own one of the famous depictions of dogs playing poker that Cassius Marcellus Coolidge painted in 1903. (There are nine of them, one of which sold for more than $590,000 in 2005. Roseanne Barr had a reproduction of one on the set of her TV home.) But McNab said the museum would love to be given one. Because the museum has no funds for acquisition, it is dependent on gifts.
But if that kind of broad anthropomorphic humor is your cup of tea, the museum can oblige with other paintings. It has both Horatio Henry Couldery's "The President" (1868), an image of a shaggy Newfoundland with a very serious mien sitting behind a banker's desk, and "Bob" (1871), a picture of a long-haired terrier smoking a pipe by dog painter George Earl.
Demonstrating its democratic take, the museum has installed "Bob" immediately adjacent to Landseer's "Deerhound and Recumbent Foxhound" (1839), arguably the most important painting in the collection. That juxtaposition of the serious and the humorous, the sober and the sentimental, the elitist and the populist, keeps visitors on their toes. You never know what you're going to see next, although the subject of the dog is a constant.
Images of dogs in art go back millennia, but, McNab said, Queen Victoria's love of dogs led her to commission the best artists of her era to paint pictures of them, which gave the genre a shot in the arm. If the queen had dog paintings in her private quarters, every aspirant to a position in society had to have them, too.
McNab also pointed out that the Victorian era marked the transition of the dog from a working animal to a pet, and dog imagery changed as well. Before the 19th century, most images of dogs were of hunting breeds, and many showed them at their gruesome tasks.
But Victorian taste favored domesticated breeds. McNab cited the painting "A Domestic Scene" (1888) by William Henry Hamilton Trood as indicative of the change. In this strictly canine version of "The Peaceable Kingdom," a variety of breeds, including a mastiff, a bloodhound, a trio of terriers, a dachshund and a poodle, are resting on an oriental rug in an upscale interior.
Unfortunately, the genre of dog painting is hobbled by a sometimes-syrupy sentimentality. If you're averse to sugar rushes, there are acres of paintings to avoid here.
But that shouldn't be so hard. Instead, you can look at the Palladian style doghouse by the fashionable Chilean decorator Juan Pablo Molyneux, who has designed lavish interiors for chateaus in France, private jets and ocean liners.
Or a carousel seat from the Looff Factory in Germany. Or posters from mid-20th century movies featuring Lassie and Old Yeller, among others. Or tiny bronze figures in a 10-dog pug band from Austria. Or, in a special loan exhibition through September, dogs featured on matchbook covers.
Not to forget "Bob" puffing on his pipe.