Summer traditionally ends with dog days. You know those hot, listless, airless spans in August that have people dreaming of thunderstorms and cold fronts.
But why not begin summer with a thought about dogs?
This is not hard for me, as my life is ruled by two dogs (below you’ll find a picture of one of them, my alpha Westie, Alice). Thus, this blog post combines two of my favorite things—portraiture and dogs—to take a closer look at a work of art in the Museum’s permanent collection.
Around 1735, the New York artist Gerardus Duyckinck I painted the portrait of young Jacomina Winkler, who was probably ten or twelve. Jacomina’s father had been a merchant in the Dutch East Indies and had settled in Colonial New York, a place with long-standing ancestral Dutch colonial ties.
There is a lot to love in this portrait, from young Jacomina’s sweet expression to the hard-edged, linear quality of Duyckinck’s contour lines. The folds in the red mantle (coat) that Miss Winkler wears are stiffer than beaten meringue peaks.
But what I love the best, of course, is the dog in her lap. This is not just any old dog, but a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel…and a very unhappy Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, at that. You just know that this dog is the kind who’s going to snap at you if you try to pet it.
In fact, it reminds me of one of my other, all-time favorite crabby dogs in art history—the little dog sitting in Mary Cassatt’s Little Girl in a Blue Armchair (at right). Don’t even try to sit in the armchair near that little dog. It will bite you.
(This is where I should admit that I sometimes would like to do an exhibition called Bad Dogs, which would feature paintings just like this. I am still jealous of my colleagues at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Bruce Museum, Greenwich, CT, who organized an exhibition called Best in Show: The Dog in Art from the Renaissance to Today back in 2006.)
But there’s more to this nasty little dog in the Duyckinck portrait than meets the eye. Because you see, the dog in Jacomina’s lap is a fantasy.
This specific type of dog, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, did not exist in America when this portrait was made. Although they had a long and venerable history in the United Kingdom, where they were associated with their namesake King Charles II and the first Duke of Marlborough, they were not in fact recorded in the United States until the 1940s. Cavs were scooped by the Westie dog, which was first shown in the U.S. in 1906—another reason my dog Alice has such an inflated ego.
So where did Jacomina’s dog come from?
This is where the specifics of the artwork begin to show us how Colonial American sitters conspired with artists to make portraits that would construct them as being just as good and noble and wealthy as their counterparts in the mother country England.
As mentioned above, this breed of spaniel was popularized by the “Merrie Monarch” Charles II of England (reigned 1649 to 1651). The dog shows up in a portrait of his wife, Catherine of Braganza that was painted in the 1680s by Sir Peter Lely. By that date, the painting was probably a memorial to her husband, who passed away in 1683. (Restoration history geeks like me find it amusing that the spaniel shows up in the Dowager Queen’s lap as a reminder of fidelity, since Charles II was notorious for having many, many, many mistresses…about 17 official ones in all, not to mention numerous one night stands with orange girls, actresses, and various ladies-in-waiting.)
Colonial American artists like Duyckinck imported mezzotint engravings based on aristocratic portraits like the one shown of Queen Catherine (above) into America. They used these prints as the basis for their sitters’ costumes, props, and poses.
Thus, the little daughter of a New York merchant was dressed up like a queen, with a queen’s dog to match.
But Jacomina wasn’t alone.
Nearly thirty years later, when Bostonian artist John Singleton Copley (Hint: The Museum has a pretty snazzy painting by him of the young Marblehead, Massachusetts debutante Alice Hooper on view on the lower level) painted Mrs. Jerathmael Bowers, he included a mythical Cavalier King Charles Spaniel as well.
This painting in the Met’s collection, shown at right above, was clearly based by the Colonial American Copley upon the engraving after a portrait by his English contemporary Sir Joshua Reynolds. The printed engraving for the original painting is shown below, just like Copley would have seen it in place of the actual painting. As you can see in the arrangement and details, Copley followed this Reynolds model with precision, substituting the face of Mrs. Bowers for that of Lady Russell.
In fact, if you want to see exhaustive documentation of pets in eighteenth-century portraiture, check out this gallery from another blogger, which includes Milwaukee’s Jacomina Winkler and the Met’s Mrs. Bowers.
You can visit the Museum’s portrait of Miss Winkler and her cranky dog in the lower level with American paintings.
And perhaps you’ll enjoy it even more now that you know the shaggy dog story behind Jacomina Winkler. Just don’t tell my dogs. They have an inflated sense of self, already!
Catherine Sawinski is the Assistant Curator of European Art. When not handling the day-to-day running of the European art department and the Museum’s Fine Arts Society, she researches the collection of Ancient and European artwork before 1900.