Friday, February 29, 2008

Animal portraits

"Saved" (1856)
by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-73)

In my own quest to find the perfect formula for animal portraits I wanted to examine what's gone before. And the first person who comes to my mind is the quintessential animal portrait artist, Sir Edwin Landseer.
Landseer was a brilliant animal painter whose work had added appeal in the Victorian age because of his tendency to give his animal scenes a moral dimension, such as this Newfoundland dog who is depicted as having rescued a child from drowning. So popular and influential were Landseer's paintings of dogs in the service of humanity that the name Landseer came to be the official name for the variety of Newfoundland dog that, rather than being almost entirely black, features a mix of both black and white; it was this variety Landseer popularized in his paintings celebrating Newfoundlands as water rescue dogs, most notably Off to the Rescue (1827), A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society (1838), and Saved (1856), which combines Victorian constructions of childhood with the appealing idea of noble animals devoted to humankind — a devotion indicated, in Saved, by the fact the dog has rescued the child without any apparent human direction or intervention.
This appeal of having animals representing human emotion seems to have carried forward in some areas, as some of the most popular pieces which are purchased are those in which animals seem to mimic human action or feeling, either in pose or action and props or the viewer identifies with the animal's predictament or situation.

There are of course many animal portraits that stand on their own without any strong emotion tied into them, but these tend to be more formal commissioned portraits that owners want to represent their living or dead animals.

How much does the 'awwwwwwww' factor come into play when purchasing or creating animal art? Does wildlife art have the same appeal as that of domestic animals? Does the setting play a factor in the appeal of a painting or drawing? How much does the viewer or buyer need to relate to the animal or the situation to make them want to inspect it further or purchase it?

Sympathy - Briton Riviere
Painted in 1877. The girl is the artist's daughter
Riviere was an animal painter, and was widely regarded as the successor of Landseer. He was also one of the few painters with an Oxford University Degree. He was the son of a well known artist. Riviere lived near to London Zoo, where he spent much time studying the physiology of animals. He painted glorified, romanticised pictures of wild animals. Another speciality was sentimental, rather humanised paintings of dogs, which found a considerable market. Rather surprisingly he only was narrowly beaten to the Presidency of the Royal Academy by Edward Poynter in 1896.
I've been reviewing how I present animal images and what my style is in comparison to some more traditional animal artist of the past. I think my images are mostly standard portraiture - simple images often without background, but I introduce the 'awwwww' factor in some drawings as well, such as Mother Goose or Eric. Animals in both of those pieces are represented in poses or interaction that is humanlike.

The Victorian painters seemed to have a sentimental view of animals and children and the interaction and I'm sure that appeal is still there today, but with a less intense view perhaps. I'll continue to examine animal portrait artists, both past and present and taking pieces from past and present, I hope to improve both the subject matter and the viewpoint.


Anonymous said...

Interesting post you I find alot of my clients want a straight forward portrait, head shoulders or full body,and not much else, but when I am doing myself to please myself, then I can really use the awww factor to great effect.....saying that I do not get much time to do this sort of work, but do yearn to....I love the Landseer.

Jeanette said...

I guess we always have to follow the wishes of clients, but can create our own fantasies in our own time, can't we?

You know in Newfoundland the Landseer breed of Newfoundland dog isn't very popular. The traditional all black is the one that is seen here most often. Supposedly the two are slightly different in shape, but still the Newfoundland breed.

Billie Crain said...

i think there's merit in any way an animal is portrayed if it's done well. for me i love to use humor, especially with cats which are usually regarded as aloof, self centered and not particularily humorous. i enjoy dispelling that myth.