A Great Artist Who Loved Painting Women and Dogs

The famed New York City auction house Doyle New York is hostingan "Old Master, Modern & Contemporary Prints" sale, which startedtoday at 10 a.m. EST....

Julia Szabo  |  Nov 1st 2010


The famed New York City auction house Doyle New York is hostingan “Old Master, Modern & Contemporary Prints” sale, which startedtoday at 10 a.m. EST. Doyle is a favorite hangout of dog lovers who are also art aficionados, for everyFebruary it hosts the annual “Dogs in Art” show and sale, coinciding with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

I’m lucky that this auction landmark happens to be located in my neighborhood. As Itoured the exhibition yesterday, Lot 432, “YoungGirl and Dog,”caught my eye because it’s old-masterful, modern, and contemporary all at once:A beautiful color etching by the French artist Marie Laurencin, for whom women and dogs were a favorite subject.

Laurencin (1883-1956)was a contemporary of Pablo Picasso and the lover and muse of Picasso’s friend, the great poet, playwright, and art criticGuillaume Apollinaire, who is credited with coining the term “surreal” and with defining the Cubist movement with his 1913 essay “Les Peintres Cubistes” (“The Cubist Painters”).Henri Rousseau paintedApollinaire and Laurencin together in 1909; the work is titled “Muse Inspiring the Poet.”

As for the muse inspiring the painter, dogs appear to have performed that necessary artistic task for Laurencin. An impressive number of her works depict canine companions. Executed in the palest pastel palette,Lot 432on sale this morning at Doyle sweetly depicts agirl-what the French call a “gamine” – and her equallyblond dog. Thegirl wears pearls around her neck and in her hair, and resembles a Cubistupdate of a Vermeer model.

Laurencin got her start working for Sevres, and her work is as refined and delicate as the porcelain manufactured by this famed French company. Laurencin’s work also has a modernist edge – yet it’s a kinder, gentler Cubist style that is decidedly feminine and very easy on the eyes. It’s at once Cubist and cute.

Laurencin paints dogs as companions rather than decorative accessories. So, although the dog in Lot 432 is, like his owner,a blond beauty, the viewer of this serious, sensitive composition gets the distinct impression that their relationshipis based on much more than mere looks. The dog is an extension of the girl’s persona, and vice versa – and yet bothremain distinct individuals. Like so many serious couples, these twohave come to resemble each other. But their skin-deep resemblance merely reinforces what is obviously the strong bond that unites them.

For some, Laurencin’s style was perhaps too delicate and feminine.In 1923, the legendary fashion designer Coco Chanelasked Laurencin to paint her portrait.The result, “Portrait of Mademoiselle Chanel” (left),is a dreamy, gorgeous painting completewith a cute Poodle-like lapdog and a symbolic white dove. But Chanel, tough cookie that she was,flat-out rejected the portrait on the grounds that it didn’t look like her.

Looking at thepainting now, it’s not hard to see why Chanel -with her menswear-inspired sense of style (she invented the tailleur, a two-piece suit for women) andno-nonsense, pull-no-punches realism (“Only firm, young flesh should be exposed,” she decreed in her typical mince-no-words way) -would balk at such an idealized, ethereal, and, frankly, girlylikeness. That’s OK, her loss is our gain; instead of being hidden away in some private collection, the painting resides in the Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris, where it delights dog lovers.

I don’t know whetherLaurencin had a dog herself, or if she did, what type of dog and what was his or hername. But the artist’s obvious love for dogs shines through in her work. She was a Dogster. The high bidder on Lot 432 will be lucky indeed to have such a beautiful image adorning his or her wall.

The rest of us can content ourselves with seeing this dog lover’s work in various museums allover the world, including the museum dedicated to her: the Marie Laurencin Museum in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture.Andcollectors who love”Young Girl With Dog”in particularcanwait until another one just like it appears on the art market – theprint on sale at Doyle this morning is number 92 of 150, so there are bound to be others out there.