WOOTTON, John
(b. ca. 1682, Warwicks, d. 1764, London)

Hounds and a Magpie

1740s
Oil on canvas, 152 x 128 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

Dog portraiture began in France at the court of Louis XV, who commissioned portraits of his favourite houndshunting scenes of Frans Snyders. In England, where the emphasis in hunting was increasingly being placed upon the performance of individual hounds, which led to intense rivalry among the landed elite, this was reflected in the paintings of John Wootton and Peter Tillemans; the former of whom in particular started to produce portraits of dogs in the mid eighteenth century. Fine examples of Wootton's work in this manner include the mock heroic portrait of Horace Walpole’s favourite dog Patapan, painted in 1743. However, it was Stubbs, a generation later, who really developed the genre, working, as he was, at a time when dogs were becoming increasingly valued not only as sporting trophies, but as objects of interest in themselves. By the late eighteenth century, the dog had gained a new status as a prized possession within English households which it had not formerly enjoyed. Stubbs's highly sensitive paintings of these animals are executed with infinite attention to detail and are possessed with boundless character and charm. Whilst they are seldom uninteresting as paintings, at their best they are small masterpieces.