|When Edwin Landseer joined the Royal Academy schools in 1816 he was nicknamed the ‘little dog boy’ by the painter Henry Fuseli. Almost all of Landseer’s early drawings depict animals, with dogs and horses being his favourite subjects at that time. As domestic pets as well as farm animals, dogs were an obvious subject for the young artist but this early interest proved to be especially profound and enduring. |
In his later career Landseer became the pre-eminent animal painter of the Victorian era and was particularly celebrated for his depictions of dogs. After he visited Sir Walter Scott in 1824, the novelist wrote to a friend that Landseer had 'drawn every dog in the House'. He not only painted dog portraits like ‘Bashaw’ (1827; Private collection) but also subject pictures, like ‘The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner’(1837; V&A). Landseer imbued the animals with human emotions and characteristics in order to illustrate moral or narrative themes. Some of his early drawings such as ‘Dustman’s Dog’ already demonstrate this urge to humanise and classify.