Rosa Bonheur, Brizo, A Shepherd's Dog, 1864
Staff voted to choose Aprils Treasure of the Month.
Stephen Duffy, Senior Curator, writes:
The largely self-taught Rosa Bonheur was the leading French animal painter of her time and was much admired in Britain and America where her paintings fetched high prices. Despite her fondness for male attire, which shocked many of her contemporaries, she enjoyed great social success. She often painted domesticated farm animals.
In this portrait the later, crudely written, inscription in the top-right hand corner presumably records the name of the dog, but otherwise nothing is known about the animal, which is an Otterhound. Brizo was an ancient Greek goddess regarded as the protector of sailors and fishermen. The reference to a shepherd’s dog in the title of the picture dates from the first catalogue of the Wallace Collection’s paintings, published in 1900, rather than earlier inventories. It may depend on information from John Murray Scott, the secretary of Sir Richard and Lady Wallace, but this is uncertain. In fact Otterhounds, an endangered British breed used mainly for hunting, would be a very unusual choice for a shepherd’s dog. Although the painting is not recorded before 1874-5, ten years after it was painted, it may have been acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford (died 1870), the father of Sir Richard Wallace, who bought the three other paintings by Rosa Bonheur in the Wallace Collection today. Lord Hertford was an animal lover who, unlike his son, is not known to have gone hunting.
It was in the eighteenth century, particularly in France, that it became widely accepted that dogs have emotions. It was also at this time in France and England that dog portraits, often with the sitter’s name added, came to be painted in large numbers, a practice further encouraged by the Romantic movement’s emphasis on the natural, at the expense of the man-made, world. The artfully contrived sentimentality of this picture – with its concentration on the face, the signboard of personality - is characteristic of many portraits of dogs (and children) painted in the nineteenth century.
Here, Emma Bryant, Education Officer, explains why she voted for this painting:
Emma Bryant has worked in the Education Department at the Wallace Collection for 15 years and manages the schools programme.
Brizo is one of the most popular paintings in the Wallace Collection, beloved by adults and children alike. Uniquely, for animals portrayed in the Collection, she is named. Did she belong to the artist who is known to have kept a menagerie,
or was the painting commissioned as testament to Brizo’s prowess as an otter hound?
There are four paintings by Bonheur in the collection, who is one of few women artists with paintings currently on display. She was one of the most famous French women artists of the 19th century but is relatively unknown in this country today.
With Brizo as the treasure of the month, perhaps Bonheur’s work will be appreciated anew.
Stephen Duffy: Brizo, a Shepherd’s Dog, Monday 7 and Tuesday 29 April