The Artful Collector: Fido Forever (or) The Fun of Fantasy Pet Portraits

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Richard Bober "Zippy" pet portrait commission
Richard Bober “Zippy” pet portrait commission, 2005

Pets are family members, too.

If you don’t think so, you either don’t have one, or haven’t been paying attention to some amazing statistics. What used to be a luxury afforded only by the wealthy—keeping a dog or cat simply for companionship—is now considered an essential part of American home life, according to the livescience online article “Obsession with Pets at All-Time High

Our notion of what constitutes the typical American family invariably includes not just a mom, dad and kids, but also a dog and/or cat. As of 2007, two-thirds of American households (about 71.1 million) have at least one pet, and 45% of pet owners have more than one. By 2012 animal lovers were spending upwards of $53 billion on food, veterinary care, kennels and other services. (USA Today, “Puppy love“)

Pet ownership also is not only almost the norm, but as the money we spend on them attests, pets are “more and more thought of full-fledged family members.” says Alan Beck, Purdue University Center for the Human-Animal Bond, and contributor to the article above. The rise in disposable income, free time, and family membership has led to increased time and money being spent on the health and happiness of pets. And among the things that would once have seemed extravagant—according to the article—such as doggy daycare, pet cemeteries and expanding number of pet surgeries and treatments—I am happy to report that we can add one more: the increasing popularity of pet portraits.

Gary Lippincott "The Franks of Frankland"  2013 (incl Rocky, Cutie Pie and Reginald) Watercolor, c. 22" x 16"
Gary Lippincott “The Franks of Frankland” 2013 (incl Rocky, Cutie Pie and Reginald) Watercolor, c. 22″ x 16″

Memorializing your Family 

Getting your (human) portrait done was a tradition that fell out of favor in the 1940s to 1950s as interest in abstract and non-figurative art increased. There were exceptions, of course, such as the portraits of “Helga” done by Andrew Wyeth…but in the 1960s and 1970s there was a revival of in portraiture, with the unforgettably powerful paintings of English artists such as Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud and the American artists such as Andy Warhol and Chuck Close focusing on the human face. Along with this rise, and possibly reinforced by the amazing photographs of William Wegman’s dressed-up weimeraner dogs in the 1980s, has come the astounding rise in animal portraiture.

Of course, you can mix humans and animals for a full family portrait, as we recently did in our commission from Gary Lippincott.  But in general, we’ve enjoyed those paintings most that featured only our dogs…as the sole focus of attention.

Animals as artistic subject matter have been around for thousands of years (e.g., Lascaux Caves)—but I’m not talking about ancient art, or veneration of animals for religious, ritualistic, totemistic, reasons. Nor are today’s “fantasy portraits” anything like the farm, barnyard and hunting scenes of yore.

Richard Bober "Bandit" pet portrait commission, 2004
Richard Bober “Bandit” pet portrait commission, 2004

I’m talking about CLOSENESS: the kind that prompts 40% of us to carry pictures of our pets in our wallets and on our cell phones; the kind that drives us to tears when a pet dies (and the consolation of friends and family that recognizes the loss); the kind that prompts stores and bars to allow dogs into their establishments, and businesses to welcome dogs into the workplace; the kind that motivates us to dress them up, take videos of them playing the piano or dancing, and enter them in beauty contests. Is it any wonder that we want to have their portraits hanging on our walls?

Costs and Other Considerations

Clearly, dogs and cats are not the only animals that can be captured via portraiture—but it helps to choose an animal companion that has enough of a personality to make their depiction something special. Otherwise, it might be anyone’s goldfish that is being immortalized in oils 🙂 Illustrators who have wide-ranging experience in drawing likenesses of living things, and personal interest in animals, make the best choices. I have seen beautiful paintings of horses by Julie Bell, wonderful wildlife paintings by British artist Geoff Taylor, and examples of private commissions for pet portraits done by Steve Crisp, Matthew Stewart, and Jael—to name only three artists I know. Artists who are enthusiastic about taking on human portrait commissions are typically the ones who also are willing to do portraits of animals, nor do they rely on “sittings” nowadays (haha) or personal interviews (with Fido) to do a good job.

Geoff Taylor "Our Rocky and Cutie Pie" 2009. We chose a simple geometric background so as not to detract from the dogs; as close as we get to 'non-fantasy'
Geoff Taylor “Our Rocky and Cutie Pie” 2009. We asked Geoff for a simple geometric background so as not to detract from the dogs; it’s as close as we get to ‘non-fantasy’!

As with any portrait, the number of subjects, the complexity of the background, and the pose, will be considerations when pricing the cost of the commission.  However, in my experience the cost for animal portraiture runs much lower than for human portraiture, and spans a wider range; I personally have paid as little as $750 to as much as $2000. But similar to other private commissions, is the need for setting time frames, dimensions, medium, and so on.

Just as with human portraits, the choice of oils or acrylics will make for a brighter, more contrastive, “showier” painting than will one done in watercolors or pastels.  This is why those kinder, gentler, “softer” media are often chosen for children’s and baby’s portraits—so that may be something to consider for your puppies and kittens, as well. 🙂

If you look online, you will see the tremendous diversity in style and treatment that exists in this field of portraiture. You can have more fun than you ever dreamed of having, in choosing this special kind of private commission!

Richard Bober "Lord and Lady Rockford" (Rocky and Cutie Pie) c. 2012.  Oil, 30" x 24"
Richard Bober “Lord and Lady Rockford” (Rocky and Cutie Pie) c. 2012. Oil, 30″ x 24″

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. A great example is the E.M. Gist “Brombie” painting he did for the Wilshires from an art pact commission after their dog Brom passed away. Excellent combination of genre and pet portrait.

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