Art works cited as cruel pulled from Guggenheim Museum show
The recent controversy involving the Guggenheim Museum’s decision to pull three art works from an upcoming exhibition has the art world and animal rights advocates abuzz. The art pieces in question were scheduled to appear as part of a much anticipated exhibition “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World” slated to open October 6. The three works are intended to symbolize oppression in China. One 7-minute video titled “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, shows four pairs of Pitbull dogs on non-motorized treadmills, struggling to make contact and seemingly fight. Another video, “A Case Study of Transference,” shows two pigs mating in front of an audience. The third work removed is an installation, “Theater of the World,” which features hundreds of live lizards, snakes, crickets and other insects and reptiles on display under an overhead lamp. Protesters in favor of removing the works ranged from the ASPCA to PETA and the AKC, plus a host of vocal animal rights activists. An online petition demanding the museum remove the works garnered more than 600,000 signatures over five days, contending that the three works depict animal cruelty.
An initial response to the protests drew this comment from the museum: “Reflecting the artistic and political context of its time and place, Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other is an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control,” the Guggenheim said in a statement. “We recognize that the work may be upsetting. The curators of the exhibition hope that viewers will consider why the artists produced it and what they may be saying about the social conditions of globalization and the complex nature of the world we share.”
This week the museum relented to pressure and withdrew the controversial works, citing “concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists.” They now face criticism from the art community for bowing to public pressure in dictating what is acceptable art and what is not. This dilemma challenges those, like myself, who are both staunch supporters of artistic expression and advocates for animal rights. I have not seen the video featuring the dogs but the written description is sufficient to sicken me at the act of subjecting the animals to unnecessary violence, stress and harm. There is no intellectual argument for allowing this that I can accept. For now, knowing that it is wrong will have to suffice.
Others, such as Sarah Cohen, an art historian at the University at Albany whose research examines the artistic representations of animals, have wisely articulated the reasoning behind the emotions. She cited a perceived failing by the museum curators thus:
The curators themselves do not appear to have considered very deeply the problem of humans forcing certain behaviors in animals,” she said in an email. “Nor did they apparently stop to consider that using pigs as performers to ‘inform’ human spectators about their cultural hangups is a shopworn strategy—as old as dancing bears and the circus.”
“In my opinion,” she added, “the exploitation of animals to make artistic points is, well, bad art.”
News: Guest Posts
America’s first art exhibition for dogs, dOGUMENTA, opens at Brookfield Place New York this Friday, August 11! Not by or about dogs, dOGUMENTA is a curated art show for dogs. The exhibition invites artists to create work addressing the canine sensibility through a variety of media—from sound and sculpture to kibble and squeaky toys.
The concept for dOGUMENTA was born during art critic Jessica Dawson’s New York gallery walks with her rescue dog, Rocky. It was clear that Rocky saw art differently than humans, ignoring New York Times reviews and artist resumes and engaging directly with the work. Dawson realized that Rocky had something to teach human art lovers, and that he and his friends deserved an exhibition of art all their own. dOGUMENTA offers an unprecedented opportunity for the creative community to engage with a new breed of art lover and to consider its new points of view.
dOGUMENTA’s curatorial team is commissioning ten new artworks by established and emerging New York City artists. Artworks will align with the artists’ established practice and also take into account canine experience and perception. Four-legged exhibition-goers will encounter work in a range of media that address formal, conceptual and experiential elements such as color, sound, scent and touch.
Tibi Tibi Neuspiel
A radical, pioneering exhibition, dOGUMENTA takes its name from Documenta, the major art survey that takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. Considered the gold standard of exhibitions of contemporary art, Documenta, like dOGUMENTA, is energizing, exciting and unexpected.
Click here to register. Walk-ons will be accommodated based on availability.
ADOPTION DAY: Saturday, August 12
On Saturday, August 12 from 10 am – 1 pm, the pet welfare organization Bideawee will be visiting dOGUMENTA with adorable dogs and puppies available for adoption. Bideawee experts will be on-site to help find you the right pet to match your lifestyle.
Giuseppe Castiglione: 18th-century Jesuit’s journey to Chinese court painter
When 27-year-old Giuseppe Castiglione boarded the sailing ship that would carry him from Italy to China, he probably had no idea that he would spend the rest of his adult life there, embraced by emperors and immersed in a culture very different from his own.
Born in 1688 in Milan, Castiglione began studying art as a youth, learning to paint at the renowned Botteghe degli Stampatori studio. There, he was influenced by Andrea Pozzo, a well-known mural painter as well as a member of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). In 1707, at the age of 19, Castiglione formally entered the order and traveled to the city of Genoa for further training.
A few years later, Castiglione was sent to the Jesuits’ China mission, arriving in Beijing in 1715, another in a wave of Roman Catholic missionaries that had begun flowing into the country almost two centuries before. Between 1552 and 1800, a total of 920 Jesuits from Italy, Portugal and France traveled to China to take part in the order’s work of converting the Chinese to Christianity.
At the time of their peak influence, members of the Jesuit delegation were among the Chinese emperor’s most valued and trusted advisors, holding numerous prestigious posts in the imperial government and working as mechanics, musicians, painters, instrument makers and in other areas that required a degree of technical expertise.
With the ascension of the Yongzheng emperor in 1723, Castiglione’s fortunes changed dramatically: he received an imperial commission for a work later titled One Hundred Horses. Painted on a large silk hand scroll measuring a little more than 26 feet in length, the painting took Castiglione five years to complete and is considered his greatest work. In late 1735, One Hundred Horses was presented to the newly enthroned Qianlong Emperor and declared a masterpiece. Shortly after, Castiglione was named the Emperor’s principal court painter.
Over time, Castiglione, who had taken the Chinese name Lang Shi’ning in the early 1720s, adapted his European painting style to Chinese themes. In doing so, he created a new, hybrid approach that combined Western realism with traditional Chinese conventions of composition. In addition to deft draftsmanship, his process involved the use of discrete European pictorial features and techniques such as chiaroscuro, perspective and brushwork.
The Qianlong Emperor held Castiglione’s artistic skills in high regard, and the Italian spent many years in the court painting various subjects —among them, dogs. According to Kenneth Hsieh of Taiwan’s National Palace Museum (where most of his work is housed), “In 1747, Giuseppe Castiglione is recorded as being ordered to do 10 paintings of fine hounds.” Each dog’s portrait bears an inscription in Chinese, Manchu and Mongolian that provides the dog’s name as well as the name of the official who presented the dog as tribute. The series, titled Ten Fine Hounds, is one of his more famous.
The choice of Hounds as subjects is in keeping with their cultural importance as hunting dogs. By the Han period (206 BCE to 220 AD), an “inspector of kennels” oversaw the raising and training of hunting dogs for the court. In The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History, Thomas T. Allsen describes early Han tomb tiles adorned with images of large, collared dogs “in the typical pointing attitude: the body in a slightly crouching position, neck extended horizontally, and one forepaw bent under and raised several inches above ground.” At the other end of the Chinese canine spectrum were the Pekinese, cosseted companion dogs who for centuries could only be owned by members of the Imperial family. (Interestingly, the results of a DNA study published in 2004 showed that the Pekinese is one of a handful of distinctly diverse breeds— Siberian Husky, Afghan Hound, Akita and Saluki, and others —most closely related to dogs’ wolflike ancestor.)
In addition to his skills as a painter, Castiglione was also in charge of designing the Westernstyle palaces planned for the gardens of the Old Summer Palace. The Castiglione-designed structures were built of stone and brick with an underlying Chinese infrastructure of timber columns, and decorated with colored tiles. Perhaps calling upon skills developed while studying with Andrea Pozzo in his youth, Castiglione decorated the palaces’ walls with trompe l’oeil scenes. The area eventually came to include not only palaces and gardens, but also, aviaries, a maze and perspective paintings organized as an outdoor theatrical stage. Sadly, the buildings were destroyed in 1860 during the Second Opium War.
After spending almost all of his adult life in China, and serving as an artist at the Imperial court of three emperors, Castiglione died in Beijing in July 1766. His fusion of Western and Eastern art stands as an important milestone in the cultural history of China—a time when societies chose to embrace new concepts and explore expanded visions of the world.
Giuseppe Castiglione combined European and Chinese compositional sensibilities, techniques and themes. He employed Western-style perspective; figures were often dramatically foreshortened, and chiaroscuro (shading) was used to heighten the sense of realism. These European concepts were, however, balanced against prevailing Chinese artistic traditions and tastes. For example, because the emperor rejected the use of strong shadowing—he felt it resembled dirt—the lighting in his portraits is subdued and shadows are absent.
Castiglione’s early training in painting large murals no doubt helped him execute the monumental scale of the Chinese scrolls, some of which are as long as eight meters, or a little more than 26 feet. Done on silk using tempera paints, the paintings required detailed preparatory compositional drawings. Unlike canvas, brushwork on silk is almost impossible to remove, and paintings could not be reworked in the European tradition.
After approval, sketches were traced onto the silk, and work began. Castiglione was assisted by a staff of court painters working under his supervision. Though rich in detail and accomplished in their realism, paintings created in this manner lack the spontaneity found in more expressive European-style brushwork.
Ten Fine Hounds
It is said that this series of paintings was commissioned by the Yongzheng Emperor to commemorate 10 dogs presented to the court in honor of the Chinese Year of the Dog. Several are native breeds related to Sighthounds and bear a close resemblance today’s Greyhounds, Whippets and Salukis. One subject appears to be a Tibetan Mastiff, while others exhibit features of a Great Dane and a Foxhound. These types of sporting dogs were highly prized for their hunting skills. Today, the art of the Ten Fine Hounds series is perhaps Castiglione’s most popular, having found its way onto postage stamps and posters worldwide.
This dog-loving artist’s first full career retrospective.
Roy De Forest’s paintings, drawings and sculptures invite the viewer into mythical terrains of mountainous vistas and overgrown foliage. Set within those landscapes are mysterious figures, boats, planes and animals, particularly dogs. With titles that often suggest a journey or a quest, De Forest’s works are densely composed, complex mélanges of textures, colors and shapes … phantasmagorical universes where humans and animals wander in awe.
The artist, who died in 2007 at the age of 77, had a long and successful career. His visionary creations drew comparisons to folk and aboriginal art, and to the fantastical works of Henri Rousseau and H. C. Westermann. A life-long dog-lover, De Forest favored squat working types, particularly the hearty Australian Cattle Dogs who shared his life (along with his wife, Gloria, and their children) in Northern California.
De Forest’s love of dogs began in childhood. Born in Nebraska in 1930, the son of migrant farm workers, he grew up in Yakima, Wash. As a young boy, he had several dogs in succession, each of whom he named Hector. The rural landscape, his affection for pulp adventure magazines, model planes and local Native American crafts would all influence his art.
Beginning in 1950, De Forest studied on a scholarship at the San Francisco Art Institute, deeply immersed in Abstract Expressionism and exposed to the burgeoning Beat movement. He went on to teach art at the University of California, Davis, from 1965 to 1992. Art created by De Forest and his eclectic group of UC Davis art department colleagues— among them, Robert Arneson, William Wiley and Manuel Neri —was dubbed California Funk. Other monikers include “Dude Ranch Dada,” which referenced the works’ humorous, anti-authoritarian nature. De Forest, who didn’t like these labels, supplied his own: Nut Art. In the catalogue for a 1974 retrospective mounted by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, De Forest identified himself as an “obscure visual constructor of mechanical delights.”
The image of naïve outsider, however, belied De Forest’s vast knowledge of art history and interest in a wide variety of disciplines, including poetry, literature, philosophy, psychology, science and mathematics. He enjoyed slipping obscure historical references into his work: animals assume postures found in Medieval art, and his compositions draw from sources as diverse as mid-19th-century romantic landscape painters to modern geometric abstractions.
This summer, the Oakland Museum of California is showcasing a comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s oeuvre. Titled Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest, it is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue written by the show’s curator, Susan Landauer, and published by University of California Press.
Of Dogs and Other People: The Art of Roy De Forest
Modern master, Influential Teacher, Dog Lover
The dog lies on a rug in the center of the room, head on the floor, one leg stretched across the train of an elegant white dress worn by the painting’s subject, a young woman comfortably settled in a blue chair. The woman’s head is turned in conversation with the artist, who, from his seat nearby, leans forward, palette in hand. The 1880 painting by William Merritt Chase is entitled The Tenth Street Studio, and is one of the artist’s most celebrated works.
For Chase (1849–1916), this New York studio was the center of his artistic life. In addition to painting there, it was where he held court, welcoming collectors, journalists, students and fellow artists to his ornately decorated and lavishly furnished space. His much-loved dogs were frequent observers of the rarefied mix of theater and ideas that characterized Chase’s gatherings.
The Gerson sisters, Virginia, Alice and Minnie, with
A dog at rest also appears in The Open Air Breakfast (above) (c. 1888), another well-known piece. The garden dog is fast asleep on her side, as though exhausted after a morning of socializing and play. The scene’s casual air is arresting, and provides a snapshot of life in turn-of-the-century American society.
Chase, a prominent member of the international avantgarde, was an inf luential artist and teacher who counted painters John Singer Sergeant, James McNeill Whistler and Winslow Homer among his circle of friends. As a young man, he had studied in Europe, reveling in the rigor of a classical art education. During his six years in Munich, he focused on the masters of European art, and developed a deep appreciation for Spanish, Dutch and French painting. He also became acquainted with a new style of painting that came to be labeled Impressionism.
Upon his return to America, he accepted a teaching position at the Art Students League in New York City, which he embraced with vigor. During his 36-year tenure, he instructed thousands of students—including Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Joseph Stella, who would go on to break new artistic ground themselves—as well as championed American art and contributed to internationalizing its stature. Through his art, his teaching and his advocacy, Chase helped usher in a generation of American modernism.
By all accounts, he was an exuberant and generous teacher who introduced a fresh approach to his subject matter and a vibrant use of color and brushstroke. His own landscapes depicting city parks and Long Island beaches are considered to be among the finest examples of American Impressionism.
Photographs of Chase show him as a dapper bon vivant with a well-coiffed beard and an upturned mustache, often dressed in a dark three-piece suit complete with a carnation in the buttonhole. In her book, The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1917), Katherine Metcalf Roof described Chase “in his famous hat, accompanied by his almost equally famous Russian Greyhound, which, if not the first Russian Greyhound to be seen in New York, was at least the first one to become a marked character of the boulevards. Indeed, in those days of his bachelorhood there seems always to have been a dog in Chase’s life, usually an English or Russian hound.”
“Before returning to America Chase purchased the beautiful white Russian hound Katti which he used in several pictures, notably the pastel of one of his sisters shown in the sale exhibition in May, 1917. The dog, a fastidious and aristocratic person, spent the following summer with Chase’s parents, where he was the most considered member of the family. They found him rather a trying guest as he refused to eat anything but beefsteak, and they were in constant fear of losing him. He survived, however, to be painted by Chase and caricatured by Church and Blum for several summers.”
—The Life and Art of William Merritt Chase by Katherine Metcalf Roof, 1917
No poor, starving artist, Chase lived well; portrait commissions and teaching provided him with opportunities for travel as well as a comfortable life in New York and summers in the Hamptons. The natural light and rural vistas of eastern Long Island were popular draws for artists of the region, including Chase. In 1891, he helped establish the Shinnecock Hills Summer School of Art, the first school in America devoted to plein-air (outdoor) painting, near the western edge of Southampton Village.
His life and work during this period are well documented in the holdings of the Parrish Art Museum, on Long Island’s East End. The museum holds the largest public collection of William Merritt Chase art (more than 40 paintings and works on paper) and an extensive archive, including a thousand- plus photographs relating to his life and work, in particular, family photographs of summers spent on the island. Tintypes and blue collotypes (the photographic prints of the day) show the artist in his studio and relaxing at his summer residence. His beloved dogs are ever present; a large, white Borzoi and a dark-colored Greyhound are shown lounging with family members and wandering the countryside and seashore. A white, longhaired Wolfhound named Katti appears in several of Chase’s portraits, often with children. Katti can be seen in commissioned works, such as Portrait of James Rapelje Howell (1886), and in his paintings of family members—Good Friends (1888) and Alice with Russian Wolfhound: Friends (1903).
From the Chase family album:
Virginia Gerson, sister of Mrs. William Merritt
William Merritt Chase with pet dog, Florence,
This fall, a major exhibition of Chase’s work opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, after a much-lauded showing at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. In early 2017, the show will travel abroad to the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art in Venice.
In the catalog that accompanies the exhibition, Erica E. Hirshler, Croll Senior Curator of American Paintings at MFA Boston, sums up the artist’s impact on American art: “Chase is a major figure in late 19th-century American art both for his own work and the attention he brought to the potential of American art during that period.” The breadth of his painting, from striking portraits to evocative still lifes and glorious landscapes, is on full display in the retrospective, which commemorates the centennial of the artist’s death, and is evidence of his important place in the history of American art.
PLAT DU JOUR
Alexandra Thurston gives us added incentive to clean our plates at mealtime: so we can enjoy the portraits that adorn her ceramic ware. In creating her porcelain portraiture, Thurston combines three passions—ceramics, printmaking and dogs. She’s had her hands in clay since she was six and studied printmaking at college, concentrating on wood block printing. She says that dogs were always her favorite subject. As she renewed her interest in ceramics, some of her old prints made their way onto her pottery. Soon, she was creating custom portraits of friends’ dogs and applying them to plates. Today, she uses the linocut technique, carving the portraits into a sheet of linoleum from photos provided by her customers, essentially creating a large stamp.
The plates and platters are made with sheets of porcelain clay run through a slab press. Each plate is hand molded, and the image is transferred to the plate using a black underglaze and an ink roller. Upon request, the dog’s name is applied manually with rubber alphabet stamps. The plates are fired with a clear glaze to add a light sheen and to make them dishwasher safe and microwavable. Because the plates are handmade and hand-printed, each has a special charm and character all its own.
Alexandra grew up as an only (human) child, but shared her early years with a liver-spotted Dalmatian named Truffles, who joined the family every night at the dinner table. We think this could be the real source of inspiration for these fanciful plates. Who wouldn’t want to share a meal with these adorable pup plates?
War is hell, the saying goes, and not just for soldiers. The highly trained military dogs at their side pay an equally severe price. Sculptor James Mellick has memorialized these dogs— and through them, the soldiers with whom they served—in a series of seven life-sized works. The Doberman missing a foreleg, a German Shepherd with a prosthetic paw, a Belgian Malinois with a metal plate: as hard as they are to contemplate, these dogs seem undaunted, a testimony to Mellick’s sensitivity and dogs’ innate, in-the-moment nature. Carved from cherry, poplar, sycamore, walnut and cedar, the sculptures came to life through a long process of designing, laminating, carving and finishing. Fine details—the bone structure under the fur; the curve of a leg; expressions conveyed by the eyes, brows and ears—are informed by Mellick’s lifetime with dogs as well as his current canine housemates, a Weimaraner and a rescued Lab/Weimaraner mix.
In his sculptural work, he says, his intent is to “reach a unity of shape and content, so that the secondary forms and shapes within the body of the dog not only serve as symbols of the meaning, but are also important design elements in the composition.”
This isn’t Mellick’s first dog-related artistic foray; he’s been investigating and experimenting with dogs as metaphors for more than 30 years. His first was Stacking Dogs (1985), a 12-foot tower of dogs ranging from an Irish Wolfhound to a Chihuahua, a comment on human arrogance, he says. His Canine Allegory Series (1997) also reflects his belief in dogs as talismans. “I see the dog as a totem animal of humans, a parallel self, if you will, who has the goods on us. Think about the dog’s unconditional love, trust, vulnerability, and the therapy and healing they offer. Look into their eyes and they are either saying ‘I love you’ or ‘What the hell are you doing?’”
He displayed three of the dogs—two German Shepherds and a Malinois—at the 2015 Vietnam Dog Handler Association reunion in Nashville. The veteran dogmen were drawn to them, Mellick says. “The dogs were a big hit, with the guys taking selfies with them, and many, many conversations took place around them. Men were wiping tears away. They released many emotions that had been locked up.” Their reactions aren’t hard to understand. Military dog-team jobs have always been dangerous: detecting explosives, scouting the enemy and taking part in search-and-rescue missions. Many don’t survive, and those who do tend to be deeply affected by the experience.
Mellick feels strongly about our nation’s ambivalent response to the men and women who serve in the military. As he told an interviewer earlier this year, “It’s one thing to be against war, but things really go south when people turn against the soldiers who serve. Young people today put themselves in harm’s way not because they were drafted but because they’ve volunteered. And because there is no draft, many of us don’t see the cost and we don’t feel the pain.”
In Wounded Warrior Dogs, Mellick makes us look straight at things we’d probably prefer to avert our eyes from—he makes us feel the pain and see the cost, both to the war dogs and their battlefield partners.
Wounded Warrior Dogs:
This exhibit has no connection to or association with the Wounded Warrior Project charity.
Interactive displays for canines by experiential artist Dominic Wilcox
More Than insurance company commissioned British designer Dominic Wilcox to create a contemporary art exhibit for dogs. It is part of an ongoing effort by the company to improve the physical and mental health of dogs by encouraging people to play with them more.
One goal was the development of an exhibit like those in the best science and children’s museums that stimulate visitors and entice them to interact with the displays. Another part of Wilcox’s assignment was to come up with an exhibit that would fit in at any of the world’s best museums of modern and contemporary art.
The displays in “Play More” are varied and focus on different senses. There are paintings in colors within the dog’s visual spectrum and hanging at just the right height for them to view easily. The Watery Wonder exhibit is a series of fountains in water bowls with the water jetting from one bowl to another. Cruising Canines simulates an open-window car ride by blowing a fan to send the scents of raw meat and old shoes to the dogs seated behind cutouts in a two-dimensional car. Dinnertime Dreams is a 10-foot representation of a dog bowl filled with 1000 balls that each resemble dog kibble. Catch is a video of a Frisbee™ disk bouncing around a screen and consistently held many dogs’ attention.
Two dogs admire “Drumstick Park,” a park scene painted by Robert Nicol and placed at canine eye-level.
“Cruising Canines” simulates an open car window with a giant fan wafting favorite canine scents (raw meat and old shoes) through the air.
A dog is captivated with “Catch,” a multimedia installation that simulates a Frisbee bouncing around a screen.
Dog pals posing with the 10-foot wide “Dinnertime Dreams”—filled with dog food shaped balls.
The exhibit’s designer Dominic Wlicox and friend next to one of the exhibit’s meat-inspired sculptures.
It’s a daunting task to create a series of interactive displays for canines to enjoy that are also contemporary works of art worthy of display in a modern art museum. I think Wilcox succeeded, but you can judge for yourself in this video.
I began doing sketchbooks in a little 3.5 x 5 inch journal about six years ago. I was already doing to-do lists to keep track of all my nutty daily tasks, and I decided to try to do a painting next to my lists every day if possible. As an art director, turned illustrator, turned art director, I missed painting and knew I’d need to get back in the habit by doing it regularly. I would often start painting with no idea what it was going to be. Buster & Babe, my adopted dogs/children are always by my side in the studio, and are featured often in my drawings and task lists. Buster’s a Jack Russell/Dachshund mix and Babe’s a Wheaton Terrier mix. I enjoy drawing dogs, especially Fox Terriers, Poodles, Bulldogs, and the occasional German Wire-haired Griffon.
The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-WWII America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The painting depicts the artist’s son, T.P. Benton, and his beloved dog, Jake.
Last November, the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5 and $2.5 million. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. Appropriately, the sale of the painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs.
T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, MO. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to the young boy. When Jake died in 1946, Thomas Hart Benton wrote Jake’s obituary/biography and dropped it off at the offices of the Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, where the Benton family had summered for decades. It also ran in their hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Times. We’re pleased to reprint it here.
He was with us for 11 years before he died.
Rita found him on a farm west of Kansas City. She was learning to ride a horse there and he followed her about. He was friendly, and Rita took to him. The farmer who owned him saw this and said, “If you’ll give that dog a good home you can have him.” So he was brought to our house.
T.P., our boy, who was then eight years old, was delighted. So was the dog, but because he had never been in a house he was a little gawky and clumsy, and slid on the rugs. He was named Jake because he was a country dog, a country jake who hadn’t learned city ways.
Jake had a laughing face. His mouth was so set that, active or in repose, he had to smile. Even when he was sad, as when he was not permitted to go with us in the car, this smile persisted. His mournful moments had thus the appearance of an act. There was also something humorous about him which made you say, “Jake, you old faker,” and which also too frequently made you yield to him and take him along whether you wanted to or not. Jake became a very adept actor. He calculated his effects and in the course of years became master of most of the family situations that concerned him.
Jake was a traveler. He sat with T.P. in the back seat of our car on the long trips from Kansas City to the summers on Martha’s Vineyard. He was fascinated by the speeding world out of the window. He would sit upright on his haunches, his tongue rolling out of his laughter, his ears erect and with the spit of well-tasted pleasure dripping off his lips. When he got tired he’d lie down on the seat and he and T.P. would battle for room. They loved each other.
On Menemsha Pond T.P. had a rowboat with a small centerboard. He rigged this up with a homemade mast and a three-cornered sail and called it the Red Jacket. It was supposed to be a pirate ship. Every afternoon T.P. and Jake would board this vessel and sail the pond. Sometimes Jake would sit in the stern with T.P. and sometimes by himself in the bow. He would bark at the gulls. If he got tired of this he’d jump overboard and swim to land, sometimes nearly half a mile. Then he’d bark at T.P. from the shore, running up and down, full of a tense glory of life.
In the winter, back in Kansas City, Jake went along when his pardner was taken to school. He learned the way, and A Dog Named Jake The painting depicts a boy and his dog in a style that has become known as American Regionalism. It is signed “Benton” for Thomas Hart Benton, the movement’s greatest practitioner, best known for his murals embracing the populist idealism of pre-WWII America. On this painting’s reverse side is inscribed “For T.P.’s birthday/11 years old/From Dad.” The painting depicts the artist’s son, T.P. Benton, and his beloved dog, Jake. Last November, the painting was one of more than 500 works from the A. Alfred Taubman collection auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. T.P. and Jake was painted in 1938 and was estimated to fetch between $1.5 and $2.5 million. After a flurry of bidding, it sold for $3,130,000. Appropriately, the sale of the painting benefited the Sam Simon Charitable Giving Foundation, dedicated to saving the lives of dogs. T.P. was eight years old when his mother, Rita, found Jake on a farm west of Kansas City, MO. The Bentons adopted him as their family pet and he became particularly devoted to the young boy. When Jake died in 1946, Thomas Hart Benton wrote Jake’s obituary/biography and dropped it off at the offices of the Vineyard Gazette in Martha’s Vineyard, where the Benton family had summered for decades. It also ran in their hometown newspaper, the Kansas City Times. We’re pleased to reprint it here. Masterwork 60 Bark Spring 2016 sometimes when the long wait for the return trip was too tedious, he’d slip away and run the two miles or more to the schoolhouse and wait outside until closing time. Then he’d play with T.P. and the other boys until Rita arrived. He went coasting and skiing and participated in all the games that eight- and ten-year-olders devise.
After three years had passed, Rita took T.P. to Italy to visit her mother. This was a sad time for Jake. Up to now he’d given me little attention. Rita fed him and T.P. played with him. Of what use I might be he had little need to consider. I was just there, good enough to shake hands with occasionally but not important. Now, however, he clung to me, and I took him on a long roundabout tour of the South, which ended, after seven weeks, at the docks in New York where we met the boat returning his real master and mistress.
There was a high rail fence between the passageway for debarking passengers and the people who had come to meet them. I stood by this fence trying to catch a glimpse of Rita and T.P. in the crowd of voyagers. But Jake beat me to it. The chain leash in my hand twisted suddenly and before I knew it Jake’s full-grown 70 pounds of muscle and tawny hair was soaring over the fence.
No one who saw that meeting of boy and dog could ever forget it. The travelers and those who met them stood aside to watch the play of Jake’s ecstasy. They forgot their own emotions in the more intense one of a delighted animal. This was a high point of life and those who saw, recognized it.
Jake and T.P. grew older. They continued sailing in summers each year, now in a larger boat. Jake didn’t much like the later boats. They went over in the wind too much and he jumped overboard oftener. But he could accustom himself to changes. He accepted things.
When T.P. started playing the flute, over long practice periods he lay quietly at his feet, though he would have preferred to be out and doing. When we had musical evenings he took his place by T.P.’s music stand and after things got started he’d wander about among the guests to be petted. Sometimes he’d nibble on the back of one of our cats. Jake loved cats.
When Jessie was born into our family, Jake was opposed to her. He would turn his head disdainfully away as she was brought into the room. But after a while, and as T.P.’s older concerns failed to provide him a proper share, he relented and took her into his life and played with her and helped her grow up.
The war days came for T.P. and took him away. Jake then went fully over to Jessie, though for many weeks, and especially when Jessie was in bed, he’d sit up with his ears cocked, listening and listening. We knew he was on the alert for a sound of T.P. He’d moan in his sleep and sometimes wake up with a bark and go upstairs and sniff around T.P.’s old room. Then he’d go back to listening.
Half shepherd and half collie, with the shepherd blood predominant, Jake had always liked to go out and wander at night, especially on moonlit nights. He generally fought on these expeditions, for there were wild and half-wild dogs living in the woody sections of the parks surrounding us in Kansas City. Jake was always full of cuts and scars but he took them laughing.
One morning last autumn he came home in a bad fix. His ears were slit and his legs torn. A big slash was over his eye and the front teeth between his fangs were broken off. This was his last nocturnal spree.
After this he’d go out on the porch, cock his ears up, and stand with one leg lifted and curved in a dainty sort of way and listen to the wild dogs baying. His ruff would bristle and he’d bark, but he let his urges go at that and in a little while scratch at the door until one of us let him in. He slept a great deal on the stair landing, moaning and talking more and more in his dreams. We often wondered what kinds of images were built up in this interior life of his sleep.
Jessie’s return from school always snapped Jake into life, though, and he’d romp and play with her as if he were still a pup. He rode east this summer, taking his old place in the car, laughing the miles by. For three years, due to the war, he’d been traveling unhappily on trains and he seemed now to be revivified by this return to old and familiar ways of going places
June and July were gay. T.P. was in far-off Tokyo, gone out of Jake’s life, but Rita was here to see that he got his food, and Jessie, now seven years old, was a pretty good substitute for his lost master. She made daisy chains for his neck and watched him chase the wild bunnies, which he never caught, which he never tried very hard to catch, and which certainly he would never have killed if he had done so. Jake was not a hunter. He had no instinct for the kill. Cats were to be chased, all right, but merely to be nibbled on when caught. Other animals were the same.
Dogs, of course, had to be fought, but with Jake this seemed a sort of ritual, a ceremony by which status was maintained, particularly status on his home grounds. No strange dog would be suffered in his own house or even too near the door.
But outside of this hangover of suspicion and violent appeal, coming down from the savage centuries of his blood’s past, Jake was gentle. He was polite. He bowed, front feet stretched out, tail wagging in the air. Sitting close by a steak in preparation for the grill, he’d waggle his ears and drool mightily but never touch it. With his red tongue, his smiling mouth, and gentle eyes, with his tawny ruff and his pointed ears, he was immensely pretty and appealing in such moments of polite restraint. But he was always pretty.
Last week Jake returned to sleeping a great deal. When he was awake he was subdued and given to listening again. With ears up and head cocked sideways, he strained as if for something very far away and faint. Was he listening once more for T.P., for his voice or the sound of his flute? Certainly he was trying to hear something. Trying very hard.
Maybe, though, it was not toward anything he’d heard before that he reached. Maybe he was listening for something which would tell him the meaning of the change he could feel was coming to him. Maybe, because Jake knew something strange was near.
I like to believe, however, that a part of him was pointed back to the early times with T.P., back beyond the days of the flute-playing to those of the little boat with the red sail, where he sat with his devoted partner and sailed Menemsha Pond and barked and laughed in the fullness of young vitality and joyous companionship. Those were Jake’s ultimate days, the days of his high success, and surely they were not lost to his old dog’s memory.
On August 2 Jake played with Jessie as usual. In the evening after supper he went out. He had a green ribbon gaily knotted around his neck. Jessie liked to dress him up. Returning from a visit about 10 o’clock, I was surprised to find him greeting me as I put the car in the garage. It was a late hour for Jake to be out. He jumped up and I petted him and we went into the house. He had taken to sleeping under a couch in the living room and as soon as we were in he crawled under, thumping his tail on the floor in a sign of satisfaction.
About three in the morning Rita and I were both awakened by a strange, prolonged wail. It was high-pitched and mournful, so utterly mournful that it made a creeping in the flesh. It was wild and without definite locality, like something coming out of far spaces or distant times. We were startled, sharply so, but hearing a panting of breath we said to ourselves, “It’s just old Jake, dreaming again,” and went back to sleep.
When we got up we found Jake dead. His head was lifted a little, his ears were erect, his eyes were open, and his smile was still with him. Jessie’s green ribbon slanted jauntily across his neck. He looked as pretty in death as he had in life. His face was happy. We wondered how this could be in view of the utter sadness of his death cry.
Jake is buried beneath a young pine tree in front of our house.
A young sculptress, who has a dog of her own and knows what it means, is carving his name on a stone. The stone comes off the beach at Menemsha Pond over whose waters and about whose shores Jake tasted most of the sweetness of his life.
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