The American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog was originally conceived in the early 1970s by fanciers who were not only devoted to dogs, but also to establishing a repository for fine art and books related to them. In 1979 the AKC Foundation was formed to raise funds to establish such an entity, and by 1985 the museum had found a permanent home at the historic Jarville House just west of St. Louis, Mo. Today the museum houses what is arguably the most extensive and valuable collection of art in the world devoted to dogs.
“Rabbiting,” by the English artist Arthur Wardle, was a gift to the AKC Museum of the Dog from the Cynthia S. Wood estate, given in 1993. This is one of several pieces by Wardle owned by the museum.
Arthur Wardle, who was born in 1864 and died in 1949, was known as a painter of wildlife and big game, but he was also a prolific painter of purebred dogs. In fact, William Secord, the world authority on 19th-century dog art, called Wardle “one of the pre-eminent painters of purebred dogs that England produced.”
Wardle began his career at an early age, and was said to have been “a natural” and almost entirely self-taught. When, in 1880, his first painting was put forward for exhibition at the Royal Academy, he was just 16 years old. According to Secord, only a limited number of works submitted to the academy were accepted; for instance, of the 13,000 submitted in 1899, only 2,000 were accepted. But in 1880 the committee charged with making those decisions accepted Wardle’s “Study of Cattle on the Banks of the Thames,” which remained on exhibition there until 1938.
Wardle’s career as an artist peaked during an era when dog shows and field trials were at the height of popularity. Many of his paintings were commissioned works of purebred dogs, and some he painted on his own. He painted dogs in traditional show poses, some with their masters and some in natural settings, often working.
During the late 1890s through the 1950s, cigarette manufacturers placed promotional messages on cards that were included in each cigarette package. According to Secord, approximately 250 of Wardle’s paintings were reproduced on cigarette cards that, like others of their kind, are still collectible today.
The Spratts dog food company produced some of his paintings on postcards, and numerous books on dogs also used his drawings and paintings as illustrations. Many of Wardle’s paintings were reproduced during his lifetime as prints, and thus his work reached a wide audience.
One of Wardle’s most recognized works was commissioned by Francis Redmond of the d’Orsay Smooth Fox Terrier kennel, who from 1922 to 1925 was the chairman of the Kennel Club in England. The original of “The Totteridge Eleven” hangs today at the Kennel Club offices in London, and a print graces the New York offices of the American Kennel Club.
The famous painting, an oil on canvas signed and dated 1897, depicts one short of a dozen of Redmond’s Fox Terriers. Some years after the painting was completed, Wardle is quoted as saying, “Mr. Redmond stood over me and made me ‘perfect’ all his dogs – shorten their backs, lengthen their necks and muzzles, make their ears and feet smaller than they really were, and so on. None of them were half as good as in the picture.”
According to Secord, many believe that Wardle knew the breed standards so well and had painted enough excellent examples of purebred dogs, that he may have improved on the conformation of a number of the dogs he painted, possibly in an effort to make their owners happy.
While Secord believes that Wardle “undoubtedly painted virtually every breed of dog in England during his lifetime,” his subjects were often Terriers, particularly Fox Terriers. From his “Terriers and Butterflies,” where one Wire looks on as another leaps up toward a pair of butterflies,” to “The Intruder,” where a male Wire protects a dam and two puppies from an interloping Irish Terrier, Wardle’s paintings are masterful representations of the dogs beloved by purebred fanciers both then and now.
The AKC Museum of the Dog is located at 1721 S. Mason Road in Queeny Park, West St. Louis County, Mo. The 14,000-square-foot museum displays more than 700 original paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures, bronzes, porcelains and other objets d’art depicting dogs throughout the past several centuries. The museum grounds also house the Hope A. Levy Memorial Library, with more than 3,000 dog-related books and publications, and a gift shop.