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Original works of art

Maud Earl (Alice)
(English, 1863 -1943 )

There can be little doubt that Miss Maud Earl stands out among the many nineteenth century artists who painted portraits of the pure bred dog. She painted in England at a time when many of our present day breeds were being recognized by The Kennel Club, and dog shows were growing rapidly in popularity.

As an artist, Earl painted many of the most important breed specimens of the day, and she is represented in the collections by fifteen original paintings and forty-nine photogravures. Among the prominent fanciers who owned these paintings were Mr. Francis Redmond of Totteridge Kennel Fame, Her Grace, Kathleen, The Duchess of Newcastle, who lived at Clumber Park, and in America, people such as Hayes Blake Hoyt of the famous Blakeen Kennels.

Maud Earl was born in the West End of London, a locale which belies her family's interest in the sporting world. The Earls came from a long line of Worcestershire and Gloucestershire sporting families. Both her father George and her less well-known uncle Thomas Earl were noted sporting artists. Her half-brother, Percy, was also an artist who completed many commissions of horses and pure bred dogs.

As a child, Maud was more interested in becoming a musician than in pursuing the visual arts, but under her father's tutelage, she rapidly became a talented pupil. Working first in only black and white, she drew animals over and over again, and was instructed in anatomy, first drawing the skeleton of a man, then a horse and a dog.

Maud Earl soon came to specialize in animals, and in dogs in particular, for she had a particular affinity for them. As the artist pointed out in an interview in the November, 1898 issue of The Young Woman, "You can't paint dogs unless you understand them; I don't mean merely from the fancier's point of view. You must know whether they are happy and comfortable, and if not, why not. You must know how to quiet them when they become excited and nervous. You must know all their little likes and dislikes, and this knowledge comes from long experience."

Describing how she went about painting her canine subjects, Miss Earl explained that she never used photographs, for she preferred to paint what she saw, rather than what the camera saw. Rather, she posed the canine subject on a sort of portable stool on castors, which made it easy to move about. An attendant usually accompanied the dog, but more often than not, Miss Earl was the one to settle the dog so that he might pose quietly. First she sketched in the general anatomy of the dog with chalks, then set about to capture the animal in oils. A single portrait sitting would typically take two days, with the artist working from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The painting would then be completed at her leisure.

Maud Earl's early commissions came from the world of dogs shows and pure bred dogs, but as her reputation continued to grow during the nineteenth century, she came to the notice of Queen Victoria and the royal family.

The Queen was a great lover of dogs and dog paintings. At any one time she had as many as 70 dogs at her kennels at Windsor, and the Queen's favorite artists such as Sir Edwin Landseer and Gourlay Steele depicted many of her dogs. Her patronage was not limited to her court artist, however, and indeed Maud Earl was summoned to Windsor to paint her favorite Collie, a breed which Queen Victoria had been instrumental in popularizing.

Queen Victoria was not the only of Miss Earl's royal patrons. She had often painted dogs belonging to the Prince and Princess of Wales, Albert and Alexandra, the future King and Queen of England. Among the most famous of these canine sitters was the Borzoi Alex, belonging to the Princess, who was so admired that dog fanciers lined up on queue just to catch a glimpse of him.

Another of Miss Earl's famous canine sitters was Ch. Cackler of Notts, owned by Kathleen, the Duchess of Newcastle, who was one of Miss Earl's most important patrons. The Duchess was an important breeder and judge of Wire Fox Terriers as well as Borzoi, and Cackler was one of the most important progenitors of the breed. Indeed, he was the father of Caesar, who was to become King Edward's constant companion. Maud Earl's 1910 painting of Caesar, entitled Silent Sorrow, of 1910, now in the AKC collection, depicts "Caesar of Notts," Miss Earl's reputation continued to grow, and as seen in contemporary reviews of her work in The Kennel Gazette, she was much admired by the prominent fanciers of the day. She was supported by a wide public, for whom images of the dog were an important reflection of their affection for the canine. Pure-bred dogs in late nineteenth century England had reached a peak of popularity, and as new breeds were imported and established among the pure-bred dog fancy, Miss Earl further established them by completing their portraits in oils. In 1898 she was asked if she painted almost every breed in existence. She replied, "Very nearly. I have never painted a Mexican hairless dog, or an African dog. Last year in my exhibition at Messrs Graves Galleries I was represented by seventy portraits, in which were forty-eight varieties of dogs."

Maud Earl was also personally devoted to the dog world as well. In an interview with Freeman Lloyd (Pure-Bred Dogs, American Kennel Gazette, 1931) Miss Earl pointed out that she enjoyed the tutelage of the greats of the mid to late nineteenth and early twentieth century dogdom; "The late William Arkwright was my instructor regarding the points of the pointer dogs, and you must know my pictures illustrate Mr. Arkwright's mammoth tome. Mr. Arkwright was a wonderful man."

In addition to illustrating Mr. Arkwright's classic book on the pointer, she illustrated a number of books, including A. Croxton Smith's Power of The Dog of 1911, (see illustration tk) Where's Master by Caesar of 1912, Whose Dog Art Thou? and, My Dog Friends of 1913, Memories by John Galsworthy of 1914 and Spaniels, Their Breaking for Sport and Field Trials of 1915.

Maud Earl exhibited consistently at the Royal Academy, and held several one person exhibitions in London, including Canine Celebrities, British Hounds and Gun Dogs and The Power of The Dog. The last two of these exhibitions were accompanied by a portfolio of prints illustrating the paintings in the exhibition, published by the Berlin Photoengraving Company in 1902 and 1903. Both complete portfolios are in the museum's collection and together represent an extraordinary record of pure bred dogs around the turn of the century. Earl liked the quality of the prints produced by the Berlin Company, and, like many artists before her, felt that they were a means to popularize her art.

It was during this period and up until about 1915 that Maud Earl's work was restricted almost entirely to dogs, and these may be divided into three distinct styles. The first, which is more typical of her work up until about 1900, is of fully finished paintings with a landscape or interior setting such as her portraits of the Totteridge Fox Terriers or the Duchess of Newcastle's Wire Fox Terriers.

The second distinguishable style is that used for many of the illustrations for The Power of The Dog as well as for the paintings for the series, The Sportsman's Year completed in 1906. In these, the figures and landscapes are painted in her earlier, highly finished style, but the perimeter of the paintings is left loose and sketchy. In the third type of painting, the background appears to have disappeared almost entirely, except for a few sketchy rendering which either establish the dog in a landscape, or somehow relate to the dog's country of origin. There are several in the collection in this category, including the original paintings for The Terriers and Toys portfolio, such as "A Feast of Fat things," and "Irish Members."

It seems curious that an artist so successful in England would suddenly move to America, but the onset of World War I had forever changed the world that she had known and loved. Her work had always been well received in America, and in her words, "Then came the war, and that finished everything. Before America came into the struggle, I came, here, to New York." She established her studio and residence at the Volney Hotel at 23 East 74th Street and the pure-bred dog fancy quickly took her under their wing and several commissions were almost immediate.

In America Maud Earl's style was to change again, and at this time, so did her subject matter. While continuing to paint dogs, she also created a great number of bird paintings, completed in what she referred to as "in the Chinese style."

In an interview in Country Life magazine in May of 1921, she reported that she seldom did dog portraits anymore, stating that if they were not decorative, they were not worth painting. This could certainly not be said of the bird and dog paintings which she was painting around this time, which were the epitome of elegance and decorative restraint. Proclaiming that she was working in the Chinese mode (actually, her work of this period has a closer kinship with the Japanese), she painted extraordinary panels of exotic birds, sometimes in anecdotal situations with dogs, or portraits of dogs which because of her new style were elevated to what she considered "the decorative".

She exhibited twenty-two paintings in the new style in her exhibition at the Jacques Seligman Galleries on East 51st Street in New York City. Described in the exhibition checklist as a special exhibition of screens and panels, Arts and Decoration of 1928 described them as "entirely Chinese in spirit and at the same time characteristic of her own unique artistry." In effect, they were an extension of her use of negative space seen in the earlier Toys and Terriers and British Hounds and Gun Dogs series. The great difference, however, was in their scale and subject matter.

The paintings were almost exclusively large in scale, and several of them were hinged together, making an actual screen. Maud Earl believed that they were one of her most important artistic contributions.

Miss Earl garnered a good deal of critical acclaim for her decorative panels. In fact, she became so well known that she was sometimes asked to create decorative panels for an entire room. She was commissioned, for instance, to create a Maud Earl room for the newly-opened Ritz Carleton Hotel on Iowa Avenue in Atlantic City. The whereabouts of these panels is unknown.

The artist also continued to paint portraits of her beloved dogs, including many belonging to prominent families of the day. Her palette changed, going toward more subdued colors, and colors to which she added a lot of white. She continued to paint dogs for the rest of her life, for as she pointed out in an interview with Freeman Lloyd, "...after all I now know that it would be impossible for Maud Earl to give up her real profession - that of painting portraits of pure-bred dogs of any breed, form or color." Maud Earl continued to paint beautiful pictures of pure-bred dogs until well into the 1930's. She returned to painting the more traditional oil portraits for which she had become so popular almost fifty years before, and at the time of her death in 1943, she was well-known to dog fanciers and art connoisseurs alike.

Maud Earl left an extraordinary body of work painted over a period of some fifty years. Born into the rigid world of late Victorian England, she stuck out as her ability to establish herself as an extraordinary artist of great talent.

 

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