The Dog Days of Summer

We’re almost at the end of the “dog days of summer” here in the States, which runs from the beginning of July through August 11. Despite the cute photo above, the dog days of summer has nothing to do with canines. 

This time of the year gets its name from the stars. 

At this point in the summer, the Sun is in the same part of the sky as Sirius the Dog Star, part of the constellation Canis Major (“Big Dog”). Sirius is the brightest star that can be seen from Earth, and it rises and sets with the Sun during the dog days of summer.

The dog days of summer are also traditionally the hottest days of the season, a sultry, sleepy and slow time of the year, especially before the days of widespread air conditioning. But I think the dog days are also a good time to celebrate the bond between humans and their pets, a bond that has existed since cave men allowed dogs to lay down by their fires.

Regency dog portraits

Just like today, people in the Regency loved their dogs. And one of the chief ways we know this is by the portraits they left behind.  

Here's a painting of a dog, clearly someone's beloved pet (you can tell by the fancy cushion) from 1801. It was rare in the early 19th century for someone to pay for a pet portrait, and it must have been expensive, too. But all that mattered to this dog's owner was creating a permanent keepsake of his best friend.

And here's a 1795 portrait by Spanish artist Francisco de Goya of a young woman and her dog. You can tell this little white dog was special to her - she's taken care to tie a red bow around its tail that matches the red bow on her white dress. Talk about coordinating your dog to your ensemble!

Royal pups

Dogs are often favored by royalty. I think it could be because dogs seldom seek political favors, they're loyal, faithful and know how to keep secrets. (I wish I could say the same about my cat.) 

Here's a portrait of a young Princess Victoria a few years before she became Queen, with her beloved spaniel, Dash:

Britain's current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is well known for her life-long love of dogs, and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi breed in particular. I have to admit, the Queen's favorite  is pretty adorable.

A Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Jane Austen's dogs

Though there's no evidence that Jane Austen herself ever had a canine companion, she must have been very aware of them. Dogs abound in her novels. 

Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park has a companion dog, Pug, which we know is female because Lady Bertram offers Fanny a puppy from Pug's next litter. 

Illustration from 1903 edition of
Mansfield Park, showing Lady Bertram with
 a Pug on her lap and Fanny at her side

Jane's choice of dog for her book was probably an easy one. Pugs were a popular companion breed during the Regency.

For example, here's a young Regency miss who must have insisted her portrait include her faithful friend, which she is clearly cuddling. I wonder how long the dog stayed still for the artist?

In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne's crush, John Willoughby, has two Pointers, no doubt for hunting. And in Northanger Abbey, Austen mentions that Henry Tilney has a Newfoundland puppy and several terriers. 

Two Pointers in a landscape, 1805. This pair could have
belonged to Tilney!

Whimsical dogs

Finally, a piece on dogs in portraits can't ignore the "dogs playing poker" paintings, which date back to 1894, nearly 130 years ago. 

Now these poker-playing dogs are clearly Victorian, but who's to say that dogs during the Regency didn't play popular Regency card games like whist or loo? When no one was looking, of course. 

This famous series of oil paintings was done by a New Yorker, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. Unfortunately for Coolidge, many art critics think these paintings are the epitome of tacky. I doubt they will ever be exhibited in the Louvre. 

But don't bet against these dogs just yet, or their enduring appeal. 

Though you may think these paintings are too kitschy to be taken seriously by an art collector, consider this: One of Coolidge's original works sold for a cool $658,000 at a Sotheby's auction in 2015. 

That gives these canines the last laugh, and enough money to buy a lot of poker chips for their next game.

So, as Autumn beckons and Summer comes to a close, you don't have to say goodbye to the dog days of summer. When you allow a dog to enter your life and touch your heart, every day is a dog day. 

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Pixabay

1 comment:

  1. My favorite...The dogs playing poker. If I had a poster of this painting, I'd find a good place to show it in my office.

    However, I especially like the first photo of The Dog Days of Summer, with the pooches lying languidly in the shade on a lawn. They evoke the best leisure feelings of summer.


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