Artful Selfies with Dogs

Masterful artist self-portraits with canine muses.
By Cameron Woo, May 2018
Frida Kahlo Itzcuintli Dog with Me. 1938 Oil on canvas 20.47 x 27.9 inches

Frida Kahlo Itzcuintli Dog with Me. 1938 Oil on canvas 20.47 x 27.9 inches

Throughout the course of art history, self-portraiture has been an irresistible exercise for artists as different as Rembrandt van Rijn in the 17th century and Frida Kahlo in the 20th, two of the genre’s most prolific practitioners. (Rembrandt is said to have created nearly 100, while Kahlo painted 55.) Kahlo, one of Mexico’s great artists, once remarked, “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” Yet, not all artists are solitary. On the following pages, we showcase a collection of self-portraits with a twist: all include a dog. In the artist’s gaze, we look for what lies behind their special genius, and are left to ponder the inscrutable presence of the dog. Does it symbolize the muse, the untamed spirit or devotion? These creative introspections remind us that the “selfie” is not at all a modern phenomenon. Rather—much like our relationship with dogs—it is a continuation of a fascination that dates back centuries.

© Estate of Robert Arneson / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Robert Arneson, Bob at Rest. 1981
Glazed ceramic
39 x 26 x 12 inches Norton Museum of Art, Purchase,
R.H. Norton Trust, 96.1
© Estate of Robert Arneson / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Robert Arneson (1930–1992) was an American sculptor whose clay monuments to toilets, typewriters and other everyday objects were integral  to what became known as the Funk Art Movement. His sculptural self-portraits (including modeling his head on the body of a dog) often parodied the artist’s identity in society.

Tom Root, Self-Portrait with Alice 1999, oil on canvas, 24 x 16 inches

Tom Root, Self-Portrait with Alice 1999,
oil on canvas, 24 x 16 inches

Tom Root specializes in portraiture and lives in Tennessee.

Joanna Braithwaite Canine Council - Self Portrait with Dogs in Art. 2010 Oil on canvas, 78.7 inches in diameter. Collection of the Artist.

Joanna Braithwaite Canine Council - Self Portrait with Dogs in Art. 2010
Oil on canvas, 78.7 inches in diameter.
Collection of the Artist.

“This painting (above) is a self-portrait in which I have surrounded myself with  dogs collected from a variety of paintings across art history. I have included dogs extracted from the works of many different artists’ paintings, including Jan van Eyck’s The Betrothal of the Arnolfini and Hogarth’s The Painter and His Pug. Some of the dogs that I’ve portrayed are derived from naïve paintings and early engravings of dogs; others are from paintings by artists like George Stubbs, who painted the pets of his wealthy patrons. At the very top of the painting, I included my own pug— Brains Braithwaite.  

—Joanna Braithwaite

Louise Catherine Breslau (1856-1927) Self Portrait (Autoportrait). 1891 Oil on mahogany wood, 18 x 21.5 inches

Louise Catherine Breslau (1856-1927)
Self Portrait (Autoportrait). 1891
Oil on mahogany wood, 18 x 21.5 inches

Louise Catherine Breslau (1856–1927) was born in Munich, grew up in Zurich, and lived and made her artistic career in Paris. A successful Salon painter, Breslau created intimate portraits and domestic scenes that displayed a kinship with those of her friend and colleague, Edgar Degas.

 80 x 31.63 inches; 80 x 60 inches © The Estate of Joan Brown

Joan Brown
Gordon, Joan, and Rufus in Front of the S.F. Opera House. 1969
Oil on canvas  2 panels: 80 x 31.63 inches; 80 x 60 inches
© The Estate of Joan Brown

Joan Brown (1938–1990) was part of the second-generation Bay Area Figurative Movement. She burst onto the national  art scene in 1960 at the age of 22, when— scarcely out of art school—she had her first exhibition in New York City, one of  36 artists included in the Whitney’s “Young Americans” exhibition. Though her technique evolved from the thickly painted, darkly expressionist style of her early career to much lighter, thinly applied enamel works as she matured, her subject matter remained largely autobiographical. Self-portraits, family tableaus, and her many dogs and cats dominated in her work. An avid swimmer and dancer, Brown frequently referenced these activities in her art as well. Often, several of these passions intersected, as in this depiction of Brown and her husband, fellow artist Gordon Cook, on their way to the opera as her dog Rufus looks on.

 Carl Warner, Courtesy QUT Art Collection

William Robinson
Self Portrait for Town and Country. 1991
Oil on linen, 54.3 x 78 inches
QUT Art Collection. Donated through the Australian Government’s  Cultural Gifts Program by William Robinson, 2011.
Photo: Carl Warner, Courtesy QUT Art Collection

Figurative Expressionist painter William Robinson  (b. 1936) is considered one of Australia’s foremost living artists. He is recognized for his unique interpretation of the Australian landscape as well as his whimsical portraits and narrative scenes. William Robinson: Genesis, his first major international exhibition, was on view at the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C., in 2018.

Cameron Woo is The Bark's co-founder and publisher.

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