Nancy Rose Marshall is professor of 19th-century European art history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she specializes in the visual culture of Victorian Britain. She authored the exhibition catalogue James Tissot: Victorian Life/Modern Love and recently completed City of Gold and Mud: Painting Victorian London (2012).
Like many 19th-century painters of modern life, French artist James Tissot (1836–1902) frequently depicted the new, more intimate relationships between dogs and their owners. During this period, people increasingly believed that animals and humans had similar emotional and intellectual responses, and the bond between pet-keepers and pets was foregrounded in new ways. Tissot, an avant-garde painter associated with Edgar Degas, portrayed a wide range of dog types with great charm, affectionate understanding and skill throughout his career. Indeed, he must have owned a number of dogs, as particular animals appear repeatedly in his pictures. A painting from Tissot’s French period, Young Lady in a Boat (1870), represents a woman in the fashionable costume of the early 19th century, accompanied by a Pug. This toy breed was a sign of wealth and status. Here, it has the slightly longer legs and snout that were typical until later in the 19th century, when the dogs began being bred for the pushed-in faces popular today. The woman’s gaze suggests that she is on a romantic rendezvous, and indeed, an alternative title for the picture—Adrift—implies that she could potentially lose her moral compass as well. Clearly, her Pug is keeping a watchful eye on her!