Lucy Dawson: Dogs As I See Them

By Ann Patchett, February 2016

Lucy “Mac” Dawson (1870–1954) was a preeminent British illustrator famous for her pen and ink, oil, and pastel paintings and etchings of sporting dogs and other breeds. During the heyday of her career (the 1930s and ’40s), her art was seen on playing cards, cigarette cards, postcard series and in books, and she also accepted commissions from individuals. The Royal Family was among Dawson’s most notable clients; she painted the Queen Mother’s favorite Corgi, “Dookie,” a portrait that was later reproduced as a Christmas card. In addition to Dogs As I See Them (1936), she had several other dog-related books to her credit, including Dogs Rough and Smooth (1936), The Runaways (1938) and Lucy Dawson’s Dog Book (1939).

Lucy Dawson’s genius—and I can’t imagine how such a thing is done— is her ability to draw the personality of every dog she met. With no fanfare, no wallpaper or sofa cushions or forest backdrops to set the mood, she captured the central part of each dog’s being—Creenagh and Joan and Bob—kind and shy, impatient and generous. Lucy Dawson, who often signed her drawings as Mac, saw the best in all of them. There is such a sparseness in these works, as if every mark on the page was meant to show nothing more than who the dog was, and once that was established she lifted her pencil and stopped. Of course the dogs themselves must have added a great deal of immediacy to the situation, because even the oldest and sleepiest of dogs isn’t going to sit still forever. In the case of Binkie, the first dog in the book, you can see he was going to give her his time in seconds, not minutes. His desire to run after a ball all but vibrates on the page.

Ann Patchett is the author of five novels: The Patron Saint of Liars; Taft; The Magician's Assistant; Bel Canto, which was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction; and Run.

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