Few breeds of dog have such a fascinating and romantic background as the Newfoundland. Even its size commands attention. Immortalised in literature by Lord Byron and J M Barrie, in art by Sir Edwin Landseer, companion and work horse for man as he explored new boundaries, and the hero in countless stories of bravery and determination that enthralled Victorian children.
It is against such a background that the Kennel Club Art Gallery stages its latest exhibition, ‘The Newfoundland: An Exhibition of Art and History Portraying this Noble, Loyal Breed’. The Newfoundland is one of the fortunate breeds that has appealed to artists, sculptors and writers over the years, consequently there is much available. Drawing from all this and bringing it all together in one place to tell the story of the breed could not have been easy and all those who worked on it have managed, in my opinion, to stage one of the best exhibitions seen in the gallery.
Landseer’s ‘A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society’ (included in the exhibition) is a defining image influencing artists and craftspeople for decades and is a theme that runs throughout the exhibition – copies by lesser artists, prints, plates, tiles, jewellery, models by Crown Devon and German porcelain factories, there is even a most unusual Victorian ‘ribbon’ picture.
It was through the breed’s heroism and bravery, particularly rescuing sailors from shipwrecks and children from drowning (there must have been a lot of careless children all those years ago), that first attracted artists. They told a story that appealed to the age. One of the earliest of many images is a colour print published in 1803, possibly after the original, by the German artist John Eckstein.
Barrie’s Peter Pan story is well known throughout the world and thanks to Barrie’s generosity, Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital has benefited enormously. They have loaned a number of Peter Pan items from lantern slides to a Jacob’s cake tin.
Sculptures in their various forms include a life-size bronze head by Marjorie Turner, Staffordshire pottery groups, Vienna bronzes and a large porcelain group by Royal Dux. Among the more quirky items is a life size rope dog by Dominic Gubb, a seated dog woven in willow and a hat covered in Newfoundland badges.
The Newfoundland Club’s magnificent silver trophies from the 1890s are on display, alongside some previously unseen images of Charles Haldenby and his dogs, including Master Jumbo, winner of the Black Dog Cup four times in the late ‘90s which can be seen beside the dog.
Apart from Landseer’s ‘Distinguished Member’, there are other important pictures on show, including John Emms’ portrait of a Landseer with its terrier friend on a beach. A number of contemporary artists were invited to complete pictures for the exhibition and these include the French artist Martial Robin and the Canadian artist Mia Lane.
The Newfoundland exhibition runs until January 10 and can be viewed by appointment Monday to Friday.