NEW YORK, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- When America's top dogs descend on New York next week for the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Show, the sale of dog portraits will hit its annual peak, because many dog exhibitors, breeders and show judges are avid collectors of this specialized art that has roots in ancient Egypt.
The William Secord Gallery, the only U.S. art dealer that handles dog paintings exclusively, is having a special reception for dog fanciers Saturday to give them an opportunity to view its exhibition of paintings by Edwin Megargee (1883-1958), specially timed for the week of the nationally televised dog rally. The Westminster show will be at Madison Square Garden next Monday and Tuesday.
Other Manhattan dealers will feature dog art, both American and European, in their windows and on their walls next week. Prices can range from $1,500 to $2,500 for a charming sketch of sporting dogs or canine pets to $60,000 to $80,000 for a large oil of sporting dogs in the field, an American specialty. Secord has sold a dog painting for as much as $175,000, a study of foxhounds by John Emms, a British 19th-century artist.
"We specialize in 19th-century dog paintings, mostly European, where such paintings have always been far more popular, especially in England, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands," said Maritza Soto of the Secord Gallery. "Westminster Show week means really good business for us, and we extend our gallery hours throughout the week to accommodate buyers and dog fanatics in general."
Megargee, she pointed out, was a part of the dog show world, a breeder of Scotties, an exhibitor at the Westminster Show and a judge. He painted illustrations for many books on dogs and for dog world publications, and was almost as widely admired as Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873) in his time. Landseer was Queen Victoria's favorite dog painter, and his work brings top dollar in the market today.
A small Landseer drawing of a running spaniel was sold for $11,950, four times its pre-sale estimate, in a "Dogs in Art" auction at Doyle New York held during Westminster Show week last year. Doyle will hold another such auction, including a group of sporting paintings, next Tuesday, and Bonhams, a London auction house, will have a similar auction in San Francisco next month.
Joan Peck, a leading private dealer in dog portraits, travels all over the country looking for paintings she can sell out of her West Side Manhattan showroom. She buys either from private collectors or small, out-of-the-way auction houses.
"I look for very special paintings, really terrific paintings," she said. "I buy mostly English, but we have had some wonderful dog painters in America such as Percival Leonard Rosseau, (1859-1937), who specialized in sporting dogs. The market for these paintings often depends on the subject and the breed of dog, but I don't buy by breed but by the quality of the painting and only if it captures the soul of the dog."
If you don't want to buy a painting of someone else's dog, you can have one painted of your own by selecting an artist from the stable of painters represented by Portraits, Inc., a Park Avenue gallery that offers 30 pet artists who paint people with their pets and a dozen artists that paint pets only, several of them specializing in dogs.
"Animal art has never lost its popularity," said Marian MacKinney, owner of the gallery. "People love animals as much as their children. I've had two portraits done of myself and my pets."
However, Secord, who has written three books on dog painting, reports that the market for decorative dog pictures is down.
"What's selling now are the higher-end things and rare things, such as a painting of a dog on point in a field. Anyone who shoots or hunts is interested in that kind of picture," he said.
The newest source of dog paintings is Frost & Reed, a London dealer of fine sporting pictures that recently opened a New York gallery. One of its top offerings is a painting by the French post-Impressionist and mistress of Pierre Auguste Renoir, Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938), of her dogs, L'Arbi and La Misse.
Tony Nevill, managing director of Frost & Reed, noted that dog paintings became popular in France in the 18th century, when the tradition of commissioning pet portraits first became fashionable in Europe. But the tradition, according to art historian Robert Rosenblum ("The Dog in Art") really began with inclusion of pet dogs in wall paintings in the tombs of Egyptian nobles 4,000 years ago.