Being alone for long stretches of time can be challenging, and no profession is more famously tied to loneliness than that of the artist. Being holed up in a studio can be lonesome work, and for thousands of years, writers, painters, sculptors, and great thinkers alike have harnessed the sometimes silent, potent power of canine companionship to ease their isolation. Read on to learn more about the canine companions of famous artists.
1. Billie Holliday’s Canine Companions
One of the most beautiful aspects of animal ownership is the unconditional love that they can offer to their owners. Dogs are most famous for this trait, being able to stand in for family members and friends of people who have suffered at the hands of fellow humans. Billie Holiday is an artist who found refuge in her canine relationships after having a childhood plagued with abandonment and abuse. Holiday famously had a varied brood of dogs including a beagle, a great dane, a boxer, a poodle, and Chihuahuas.
Mister, the boxer was her favorite and famously accompanied the singer to her shows, waiting patiently in the dressing room during her legendary Carnegie Hall performances. The two of them were separated while Holiday was incarcerated for drug charges, but Mister was there when she was released, jumping on her so enthusiastically and refusing to let anybody else get near her. Onlookers allegedly presumed she was being attacked.
2. Georgia O’Keefe
The romantic image of Georgia O’ Keefe staring off into the beautiful mountainscapes of New Mexico in perfect isolation is only a fantasy many of us love to entertain, perhaps due to its attractiveness when viewed from the bustle of a city. Yet, the famously independent painter was not entirely isolated on her beautiful desert ranch, with a slew of famous artistic visitors passing through and the constant company of her famous Chow Chows Bo and Chia. These pets came to her as Christmas gifts from a neighbor after she lost her pet poodle. They were never far from the artist’s side and she referred to them fondly as little people. She remains one of the most influential female artists ever, reimagining what it means to be a female artist focusing on natural form.
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3. Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso’s dachshund Lump was immortalized in one of Picasso’s most famous line drawings and was infamously the only creature allowed inside the artist’s studio while he was working. He originally belonged to the veteran photojournalist David Douglas Duncan who was merely visiting Picasso. Picasso fell in love with Lump, so the dog never again left his side. The dog has a notoriously dominant personality. He can be seen in Picasso’s many reiterations of Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas. Lump became a silent witness to the many dramatic phases of domestic life that Picasso was so famous for engaging in. Together, they passed through their senior years together, and in 1973 Lump and Picasso died within days of each other.
4. Jackson Pollock
The famously troubled abstract expressionist has a melancholic legacy and a career that is often overshadowed by his dramatic personal life and traumatic death. Nonetheless, Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner tried to pacify the artist’s alcoholic temperament in many ways. One such tactic was seen in the adoption of their two dogs Gyp and Ahab. Their role was to accompany Pollock as he toiled in the studio after their move from New York City to East Hampton, Long Island. The house can be visited by fans of the artists and the scratch marks left by Gyp and Ahab are still visible on the back door.
5. Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway was a cat lover, but during his time in Cuba, he had a dog that he called the Black Dog. The two were often seen around town, moving around the streets and bars of Cuba. Unfortunately, militia men cruelly killed the writer’s Black Dog one night when they broke into Hemingway’s house looking for guns. Black dog is said to have been by Hemingway’s side during the entire writing process of The Old Man and The Sea and For Whom The Bell Tolls.
6. Frida Kahlo
Frida Khalo is one of the most celebrated artists in the world. Her reverence for nature and for the animal kingdom is embedded in her art. While living and working in her native Mexico, Frida famously collected animals of all kinds, from monkeys and eagles to parrots and cats. These animals were mostly rescued and she allowed them to wander freely around her estate. It was well known locally that her favorite of the bunch was called Señor Xolotl, named after the canine deity that protected the underworld. She immortalized him in many of her most famous works like The Love Embrace of the Universe, Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Senor Xolotl (1949).
7. John Steinbeck
There have been few travel documents that have captured the intimacy between famous artists and their canine companions as extensively as John Steibeck’s travel journal Travels with Charley. A brown standard poodle Charley went on the road with his adoring master to explore the wilds of America. While Steinbeck wrote frantically about the varying types of people they met on their journey, it’s Charley’s hilarious personality that got developed most lovingly throughout the book. Steinbeck portrayed his companion with humanlike characteristics which makes the book so endearing. By the end of the book, the reader is well aware that neither the trip nor the book could have happened without him.
8. Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell’s bucolic and serene illustrations seem hard to imagine without the presence of a sleepy puppy on a rug, or a watchful guardian hound overlooking the children as they sleep. Rockwell is famous for capturing the essence of middle-class America in the wake of the Second World War. In some of his most notable works for the Saturday Evening Post, one can be seen bounding towards a soldier returning from war. Rockwell’s work showed how integral and central dogs were to the everyday lives of millions of families. One of the most iconic portraits of the artist at work includes his last dog Pitter, an adorable Beagle, gazing adoringly at his master.
9. George Stubbs
George Stubbs was one of the greatest painters of the 18th century. He is known for his exquisite portraits of horses which made him a household name. Stubbs studied the anatomy of animals and he was passionate about traveling and documenting wildlife. Many of the wealthy clients he had requested portraits of their four-legged friends, and Stubbs obliged. He became known for his detailed accounts of dogs, capturing their individuality and character. He delighted the pet owners with his skill and precise ways of showing animal tails and eyes.
One of his paintings Horse and Dog Trim was commissioned after a dog alerted his slave-owning master that one of the slaves was entering their bedroom with a knife. The family of the people who commissioned the painting donated the artwork to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery in acknowledgment of their slave-owning past.
10. René Magritte’s Canine Companion
René Magritte and his wife Georgette were famously obsessed with dogs. Their passion for animals was central to their identity as a couple. This was especially apparent in their relationship with their famous Pomeranians. They traveled nowhere without them. Belgian Airlines even had to make a special exemption for them on a flight in 1965 after Magritte threatened to cancel his MoMA retrospective should they be denied the journey across the Atlantic.
At one point the couple had four dogs, two were called LouLou, and two were called Jackie. Magritte painted his dogs extensively during the 1940s, opting to replace human figures in his work to better convey a sense of the universal horror that emerged in response to the Second World War. He allegedly believed that canine companions seemed to illustrate real life better than humans. They also connected in a more emotionally direct way with the audience.