Queen Victoria's love of dogs is legendary, as was her regard for all dumb creatures,
and her retinue of artists was most impressive indeed. Sir Edwin Landseer, Gourlay
Steell, Charles Burton Barber and Maud Earl are but a few of the artists who painted
portraits of her faithful pets. We shall look at these paintings, symbols of canine
affection, and how they were a comfort to her in everyday life.
While the great queen only rarely allowed her own dogs to enter the show ring,
her well known affection for the purebred dog, and the royal family's support
of dog shows, encouraged many people to enter their favored pets into competition.
During the first half of the century the popularity of function-oriented dogs
decreased, while show dogs were on the rise. The transition was not an easy one,
for there was great resistance to the "show fancy" on the part of many
breeders. Dogs had traditionally been bred for a specific purpose: Hounds for
the hunt, Terriers to kill vermin and dig out the fox, and the Bulldog to worry
and bait the bull. Early dog breeders, although anxious to regulate the standards
for their favorite breeds, were not anxious to see their tough, highly skilled
dogs relegated to what they considered the beauty contest of a conformation show
As the traditional function of these dogs became less and less important, and
as the nineteenth century developed, this is indeed what happened. The early history
of dog shows, The Kennel Club and the important dog fanciers who emerged in the
second half of the nineteenth century set the scene for the purebred dog portrait.
These men, and later in the nineteenth century, women, created the foundation
of dog shows as we know them. It was their pride of ownership which led to the
increasing popularity of dog portraits and some of the best animal portraiture
of the period.
But even before the earliest dog shows in England or the development of the sport's
regulatory body, The Kennel Club, one individual stood above all others as the
prominent friend of the dog: Queen Victoria. From childhood, she had loved all
animals, and this simple, direct affection became in adulthood a devotion which
encompassed all breeds of dogs, and a compassion for animals which might well
serve as a model for the general public today.