Pet Portraits for Rich People You Have to See to Believe

Tom Palmore has been painting large-scale, hyper-detailed portraits of animals for close to 30 years. Below, check out 14 of Palmore's favorite commissions, which can run to more than seven-feet wide and go for $25,000 to $35,000 a pop.

  1. 'Duncan in Space,' 2001

    'Duncan in Space,' 2001

    Tom Palmore's commissions all come via word of mouth (by, say, the same people paying $15,000 to get painterly selfies done). Someone will see a painting of a pet at a friend's house and then contact Palmore's gallery and ask him to create one. Duncan, the subject here, belonged to one of the painter's friends.

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  2. 'Stash,' 2001

    'Stash,' 2001

    Palmore accepts commissions but selects the backgrounds himself. He began his career capturing human subjects, but a negative experience with a Chelsea gallery owner turned him to embrace a different segment of the animal kingdom. Prices for commissions range from about $25,000 to $35,000.

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  3. 'Zelvis,' 1996

    'Zelvis,' 1996

    For a commission, Palmore will visit the animal in question, accompanied by a professional photographer. (Most people commission portraits of pets, although a few simply request an image of a type of animal). After making preliminary sketches, Palmore begins to paint.  Here is a zebra that belonged to a woman living outside Nashville. Its name, appropriately, was Zelvis. 

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  4. 'Tyrone,' 1982

    'Tyrone,' 1982

    Palmore, who is represented by LewAllen Contemporary, a Sante Fe, N.M., gallery, completes about 20 paintings a year; about four are commissions. "I paint a lot more than most realist painters do," he told us. "I'm very regimented."

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  5. 'Sea Otter with Ducks,' 1997

    'Sea Otter with Ducks,' 1997

    This was commissioned by a couple that had traveled to Alaska, seen some sea otters, and asked Palmore to create one. They never mentioned ducks, which came as a surprise. "After they had a private conversation," Palmore said, they decided to keep the work.

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  6. 'Baby Billy,' 1993

    'Baby Billy,' 1993

    Palmore's paintings are usually massive. This rendition of a friend's bulldog is seven feet wide and more than four feet high. Some animals, Palmore said, are not for his canvases. "It would take an enormous amount of money for me to paint an elephant seal because I don't like the way it looks," he said.

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  7. 'Reclining Tiger,' 2004

    'Reclining Tiger,' 2004

    Clients receive a sketch before Palmore begins painting. "You can't verbally discuss a visual thing," he said. "You have to give someone an idea of the proportions and the pose; that way they're not totally shocked when they see the final image."

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  8. 'Rodeo Queen Take Two,' 2004

    'Rodeo Queen Take Two,' 2004

    In a monograph devoted to his art, Palmore described the eyes as the most important part of his images. "I've modified more pupils over the decades than I can even begin to count, he is quoted as saying. "I don't care how well I've painted the feathers or coat, an animal doesn't come to life or communicate to others until the eyes are just right."


    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  9. 'Maxx Loves Cats,' 1998

    'Maxx Loves Cats,' 1998

    While Palmore has dogs, he rarely paints them, according to the monograph. "It seems odd, but the truth is, when you do a portrait of your own pet, there is a desire to keep it. And I must remember that I make my living selling paintings, not keeping them."

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  10. 'Peaceful Kingdom,' 2002

    'Peaceful Kingdom,' 2002

    When he was younger, Palmore would ask for a 50 percent deposit in advance. Now, he said, if a client doesn't like a painting, he can just sell it in his gallery.

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  11. 'Red Panda,' 2002

    'Red Panda,' 2002

    "The kind of commissions I really like," Palmore said, "are the ones where people contact me and say something like: 'Hey we were in Africa and we saw mountain gorillas. Could you possibly do a silver-backed gorilla for us?' And I say 'sure!"

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  12. 'Butch & Ginger,' 2010

    'Butch & Ginger,' 2010

    This painting, which Palmore described as "hilarious," includes a reference to Monet's water lilies in the background.

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  13. 'Frenchie,' 2002

    'Frenchie,' 2002

    This was commissioned by a french couple, both restaurateurs in Vail, Colo.,, hence the title and the mountains in the background.

    Source: Courtesy of the artist

  14. 'Mickey's Paint Horse,' circa 1990s

    'Mickey's Paint Horse,' circa 1990s

    Palmore lives on a Midwestern ranch with a menagerie of animals. He plans to move in the coming months to Santa Fe, taking with him a smaller portion of the animal kingdom

    Source: Courtesy of the artist