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Comical Dogs

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain, Uk (painted)

  • Date:

    1836 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Edwin Landseer, born 1802 - died 1873 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on panel

  • Credit Line:

    Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

One of these wire-haired terriers has a ram's horn snuff container and wears a Scottish bonnet, while the other has a clay pipe in its mouth and wears a lady's cap. A critic observed that the artist 'gives them all the intelligence of the canine nature' but 'never plays with the falsehood of a fanciful or humanised expression'.

Physical description

'Comical Dogs', oil on panel, depicting two dogs, one wearing a white bonnet appears to smoke a pipe and sits back on its hind legs with both front paws up, the other dog is wearing a Scottish tam on his head.

Place of Origin

Great Britain, Uk (painted)


1836 (painted)


Edwin Landseer, born 1802 - died 1873 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on panel


Height: 69.8 cm estimate, Width: 76.2 cm estimate, Depth: 7.2 cm framed, Height: 101.3 cm framed, Width: 107.3 cm framed

Object history note

Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857

Descriptive line

Oil painting entitled 'Comical Dogs' by Sir Edwin Landseer. Great Britain, 1836.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Richard Ormond, Monarch of the Glen: Landseer in the Highlands. Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 2005.
Exhibition catalogue
Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, Ronald Parkinson, Victoria and Albert Museum, London: HMSO, 1990, p. 149
The following is the full text of the entry:

"LANDSEER, Sir Edwin Henry, RA (1803-1873)
Born London 7 March 1803, fourth of seven children of the engraver John Landseer. Studied with BR Haydon, entered the RA Schools 1817 (at the age of 14); won annual prizes of the Royal Society of Arts 1813-17. A precocious and prodigious talent, as both painter and draughtsman, he exhibited - in a long and distinguished career - 179 works at the RA between 1815 and 1873, 94 at the BI 1818-65, and four at the SBA 1826-32.
Subjects included portraits, but predominantly dealt with animal and human genre, often based in Scotland. Elected ARA 1826 (at the earliest permitted age), RA 1831. Received the patronage of the Russell family, and - most importantly- that of the Royal family, to whom he was Drawing Master, beginning in 1836 with the Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria's mother); most significantly, he represented in visual form the Queen and Prince Albert's love for the life and landscape of the Scottish Highlands. Together with George IV's celebrated visit to Edinburgh 1822, and the great popularity of Sir Waiter Scott's Waverley novels, Landseer's contribution to the place of Scotland in European culture in the 19th century was considerable. The artist's own popularity was increased by the great number of reproductive prints after his works (Graves alone lists 434 by 126 engravers, see Lit below); his 'Monarch of the Glen' (exh, RA 1851), commissioned by the House of Lords but the cost refused by the House of Commons, was eventually bought by Sir Thomas Dewar and reproduced on his family firm's whisky bottle labels. Also significant was his anthropomorphic treatment of animals, particularly dogs; the Art Journal obituarist stressed that 'his dogs are not mere portraits only, they are thinking, almost rational, creatures, wanting only the gift of speech to hold converse with us'. Knighted 1850; offered PRA 1865, but refused, almost certainly because of his poor physical and mental health. Died London 1 October 1873; buried in St Paul's Cathedral. His studio sale was at Christie's 8-15 May 1874; a commemorative exhibition was held at the RA 1874/5. After the Royal Collection, the V&A possesses the largest holding of Landseer's works; there are a great many drawings and prints as well as the oils catalogued below, principally from the Sheepshanks Gift, one of the artist's most important patrons.

LIT: F G Stephens The Early Works of Sir Edwin Landseer RA 1869; J Dafforne Pictures by Sir Edwin Landseer ... 1873; Art Journal 1873, p326 (obit); interleaved copy of 1874 RA exhibition catalogue, annotated by C S Mann, with photographs of prints after Landseer, 1874-7,4 vols (National Art Library, V&A); A Graves Catalogue of the Works of the Late Sir Edwin Landseer 1876; C Monkhouse entry in DNB; C Lennie Landseer: Victorian Paragon 1976; R Ormond Sir Edwin Landseer Philadelphia Museum of Art and Tate Gallery exhibition catalogue 1981 (With full bibliography).

Comical Dogs
FA l00 Neg GG4951
Panel, 69.8 X 76.2 cm (27½ X 30 ins)
Sheepshanks Gift 1857

Exhibited at the BI in 1836, the works shows clearly the increasing whimsical anthropomorphism that interested the artist. The critic of the Examiner, who found the painting 'irresistible', went on to comment that the right-hand dog 'who looks up, it is clear, to his master's face, is expressed inimitably. An inferior artist would have made them seem conscious of the ludicrous figure they cut. Mr. Landseer, while he gives them all the intelligence of the canine nature, never plays with the falsehood of a fanciful or humanised expression'. This latter statement, to say the least, is open to question. The Athenaeum thought it 'one of the best things in the gallery' but:

We are perplexed to know whether more to admire the fun of the party
(to speak as the diplomats do) in the grandmother's cap, with the stump
of a pipe in his mouth, or the drier humour of him in the shepherd's
bonnet, with the mull at his paws. This picture is sure to attract many
gazers - who will forget the slightness of its execution in the quaintness of its design.

Lennie calls these dogs 'absurdly dressed-up tykes', and 'though they deliberately exploited quaintness, they did not falsify expression; they were, however, the forerunners of the insufferably cute newspaper photographs showing a litter of puppies or kittens suspended inside a row of socks on a washing-line'. We might update this comment to include the presentation of animals on the television programme 'That's Life!'.

EXH: BI 1836 (10)

ENGR: Charles G Lewis, for Art Journal 1877, facing p80; Samuel A Edwards 1886, as pl 6 of Works of Sir Edwin Landseer RA (first series 1881-93)

LIT: Athenaeum 1836, p147; Examiner l836, p213; Graves (unnumbered, listed under the year 1836); Art Journal 1877, p80; Mann III, p1l5; F G Stephens Sir Edwin Landseer 1881, p76; J Manson Sir Edwin Landseer 1902, p87; Lennie pp88, 182

Ronald Parkinson"
Julius Bryant, ed. Art and Design for All. The Victoria and Albert Museum London: V&A Publishing, 2011. ISBN: 9781851776665.
Tom Ewart, Stephan Brakensiek ... [et al.] eds. Les animaux dans l'art Luxembourg : Villa Vauban, c2013. Description: 96 p. : col. ill., ports. ; 30 cm. ISBN: 9782919878024

Exhibition History

The Victoria and Albert Museum: Art and Design For All (Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest 14/06/2012-16/09/2012)
The Victoria and Albert Museum: Art and Design For All (Kunst und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn 18/11/2011-15/04/2012)
Monarch of the Glen: Landseer in the Highlands (Royal Scottish Academy Building, Edinburgh 14/04/2005-10/07/2005)

Labels and date

Landseer often portrayed Highland 'types', and in Comical Dogs this interest in the Scottish character is given an anthropomorphic dimension. The dogs are dressed up as a Scottish Darby and Joan. The terrier in the tam o'shanter fixes us with a keenly appraising gaze while his 'wife', wearing a lady's bonnet, sucks philosophically on her clay pipe. [24/07/2008]


Oil paint; Panel


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Hats; Dogs (animals); Smoking; Anthropomorphism; Humour; Pipes (smoking equipment); Parody


Paintings; Anthropomorphism; Smoking accessories; Scotland

Collection code


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