In 1998, Doyle, the Upper East Side auction house best known for its genteel sales of silver and antique furniture, held an auction devoted solely to Man's Best Friend. It was a success, and for more than a decade the Dogs in Art sale became a yearly tradition.
The last sale took place in 2009 and included sporting art and wildlife art. Consignors and collectors, however, wouldn't let the Dogs in Art sale expire without a fight.
"We always received so many inquiries," said Ariel Gold, a specialist in Doyle's paintings department. "Given that level of interest, we decided to create a new sale." Like a dachshund-shaped phoenix rising from the ashes, the Doyle Dogs in Art Auction was reborn.
The popularity of the sale shouldn't come as a surprise. The art market has a lengthy tradition of animal portraiture, in which dogs and horses (and dogs with horses) are recurring themes. The work of George Stubbs (1724–1806), one of Western art history's better-known animal painters, regularly sells for six- and seven-figure sums; in 2014, for instance, his portrait of a spaniel sold for $827,000 at Sotheby's in London. Henry Edwin Landseer (1802–1873), another notable artist of the animal genre, has a dedicated following. (He made the lions in Trafalgar Square and painted portraits of a number of Queen Victoria's pets.). Landseer's portrait of a dachshund owned by the hereditary prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha sold last year for more than $30,000 above its high estimate at Sotheby's in London.
Next week's sale at Doyle will be more modest. Tucked into a larger, Feb. 9 sale of Belle Epoque decorative arts, the auction comprises 40 dog-themed lots, most paintings. Several, such as the trio of paintings by Louis Darling (1916–1970) offer traditional hunting scenes: On the Scent!, Now or Never, and the less lyrical Grouse Shooting. Others, like Frances Mabel Hollams' Corrie, appear to be commissioned portraits. Then there are paintings by Belgian artist Thierry Poncelet, which seem to exist in a world of their own.
"He began his career as a restorer, and one day he was bored in the studio and decided he wanted to spruce up some Old Master paintings," explained Gold. "So he painted the face of a dog on the head of an Old Master's figure, and then it became a new career for him." Hence A Lady of Distinction, a portrait of a Victorian woman whose head happens to be that of a bloodhound.
None of the lots carry estimates higher than $30,000, with most well under $5,000. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the breed depicted in each painting can affect its price.
"We've seen that pugs tend to do quite well," Gold said. "German shepherds are a little more challenging to sell."
Check out a range of lots below
George Armfield (1808–1893), Defending the Catch
Robert Alexander (1840–1923), Portrait of a Cairn Terrier
Anton Karssen (b. 1945), Up to No Good
Esme Gill (20th century), Pekingese Puppies: Two
5. Portraits of the Prize Winners of a Crystal Palace Dog Show
After Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, A Jack in Office