As part of Best In Show Daily’s ongoing series highlighting artwork on display at the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, today we feature a painting by artist Matilda Lotz entitled “At the Garden Gate.” This piece was a gift to the museum from former AKC Chairman Ron Menaker and his wife, Kathy.

“At the Garden Gate,” by Matilda Lotz. Photo courtesy of the AKC Museum of the Dog.

Matilda Lotz was the daughter of German immigrants who first settled in Franklin, Tenn., where today the Lotz House is a Civil War house museum. Near the close of the War Between the States, the Lotz family home was directly in the path of the Battle of Franklin, a bloody clash between the Union and Confederate armies on November 30, 1864. The couple and their two children, including 6-year-old Matilda, survived by taking refuge in the brick basement of the home across the street, where the Carter family harbored 20 friends and neighbors during the 17-hour siege.

The Lotz family home, and the family itself, survived the battle, and shortly afterward Johann Lotz moved his family out west, to San Jose, California.

Matilda had been drawing since she was a small child, and in a biography written for the Crocker Art Museum it was noted that she “showed artistic promise at a very early age and by seven was drawing the household pets and farm animals.” When she was 12, she was given her first art instruction by her brother, Paul, and other artists at a local gallery.

At the age of 18, Matilda was allowed to go to Paris to study under Felix Barrias and the animal painter Emile Van Marcke. She earned two gold medals from the Paris Academy of Painting, the first woman ever to be so honored, and as she traveled throughout Europe her work became more in demand. She even began to receive commissions from European royals.

Among the elite who commissioned Matilda for a painting was the Baroness Rothschild, who wanted a portrait of her beloved dog, Jumbo. J.T. Thompson, the current executive director of the Lotz House, shared the story of a relationship that developed during this project. According to Thompson, Matilda spent several months putting the giant canine on canvas. Near the time when she was finishing the portrait, the Baroness happened to witness the bond that had developed between Matilda and Jumbo, and found it so endearing that she gave the dog to the artist.

Artist Matilda Lotz posed with her dog, Jumbo, beside her. He was a gift from the Baroness Rothschild. Photo courtesy of the Lotz House Museum.

Matilda spent much of the rest of her life in Europe, but returned to San Francisco for a brief time in the mid-1880s, when she was commissioned to paint several noteworthy human figures. Among them were George Hearst, William Randolph Hearst’s father, and former California governor Leland Stanford, who also founded Stanford University. That painting is on display today at the university.

But it was animals that she primarily painted, and her talent was widely praised. Writer Mae Silver, in an historical essay about women artists whose work was displayed at the 1894 Midwinter Fair in San Francisco, wrote that, “Matilda Lotz received rave reviews at the first exhibition of women’s paintings, Dec. 15, 1885, for her rendition of animals.” After she returned to Paris in the 1890s, the Crocker Art Museum noted that Matilda was invited to London and received several commissions from British royals for her animal portraiture.

After a successful life as an artist, Matilda Lotz passed away in Hungary in February 1923, in her mid-60s. Today she is considered “one of California’s premiere early female artists.” The Lotz House museum has five of her original paintings on display, all of animals, including her earliest painting known to still exist. “It’s a wolf she painted when she was only 11 years old,” says Thompson.

She is not known to have often portrayed dogs, but the painting at the AKC Museum attests to her considerable skill. “At the Garden Gate” is an oil on canvas that depicts a lovely tri-colored hound eagerly anticipating an arrival at the gate he stands before. The viewer gets the impression that someone is coming imminently, as his pricked ears and focused gaze indicate that the dog may have heard him, or her, approaching just outside the portal. It’s a posture that canine lovers have seen time and again, and is utterly true to life.

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.