Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Friday, August 11, 2006

If a cat can look at a king, a dog can have his portrait painted by Thomas Gainsborough. And a dog did. “Portrait of a Pug belonging to Jonathan Spilsbury, in a Landscape” is one of the several dozen works in Best In Show: The Dog in Art from Renaissance to Today on exhibition at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Samuel Johnson said, “I would rather see a portrait of a dog that I know than all the allegorical paintings they can show me in the world.”
Bao agrees.
He sat up straight in his stroller, and looked at everything, including the skeleton of a dog carrying a copy of Le Monde in its mouth. He was intrigued. He was fascinated. I think I’ve finally found his genre.
This is a wonderful exhibition, and the catalogue that accompanies it includes many other works featuring dogs, including Titian’s famous portrait of Fredrico II Duke of Mantua with his white maltese. Fredrico loved his dogs, and at one point he owned 111 of them.
I actually saw – and purchased – the catalogue of the exhibition at the Clark, and when I realized that the show itself was still on, we detoured to Connecticut especially to see it. It was a delight, and a revelation. I had no idea that artists like Pierro della Francesco, Phillipe Rousseau (whose marvellous “Everyone for Himself” hung at the Paris Salon of 1865) Gustav Courbet, Jean-Leon Gerome, Joan Miro and Andy Warhol (to name a few) painted dogs.
Bruce Museum is actually a natural history museum, and in a couple of rooms adjoining the main show, another exhibit, The Nature of Dogs, explores the history of dogs and men. Dogs originated in North America, but now inhabit every continent except Antarctica. DNA testing can establish how “ancient” a given breed is – the oldest is the Shibu Inu, followed by the Chow Chow and the Akita. The Shih Tzu is ninth; the Saint Bernard is eleventh.
There were also hands-on displays that let you compare your senses of hearing and smell to those of a dog, and explanations of “doggy” sayings. For instance, the phrase, “a three-dog night” originated in Australia, where Aborigines are said to have slept with their dogs at night, for warmth. A three dog night was therefore a very cold night.
It was all a lot of fun. If you love dogs and are anywhere near Connecticut, the show runs until August 27. Even if you can’t get to the exhibition itself, you might want to order the catalogue, which is beautifully presented and very reasonably priced.
Next stop, Cleveland.


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