Close But No Collie

In digging around the internet looking for picture and painting evidence of Queen Victoria’s dogs, it was impossible not to come across Sir Edwin Landseer. He was in with the Royal Family from before Victoria became Queen and was a specialist in animal–especially canine–paintings.

Queen Victoria’s Dogs and Parrot by Sir Edwin Landseer, RA 1802-1873. c.1833-1834. Oil on panel, signed with monogram. 25 x 30 inches.

Queen Victoria’s Favorite Dogs and Parrot or The Royal Pets, as it is sometimes known, is a reduced replica of the picture of the same title exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1838 (Royal Collection). This was the first Academy exhibition that Victoria viewed as Queen, her uncle, William IV, having died shortly after the opening of the 1837 exhibition. The Queen was already familiar with Landseer’s work. Her mother, the Duchess of Kent, had presented her with a portrait of her spaniel, “Dash,” two years earlier. Landseer was to become a favorite, frequent guest, and occasional painting instructor to the Queen and the Prince Consort.

The composition of Queen Victoria’s Favorite Dogs and Parrot is centered around the be-ribboned “Dash”. Lying on a velvet covered footstool, he is surrounded by “Hester,” “Nero,” and “Lorey,” the last named being the Duchess of Kent’s parrot…The image of “Dash,” regally perched on his stool, became a popular needlework subject throughout the balance of Queen Victoria’s reign [p. 82]

– The Royal Academy Revisited (1837-1901), Christopher Forbes

Since many online archives and galleries have images which are poorly labeled with few, if any, keywords, I spent a lot of time looking at “dogs” and “Victoria pets” and the available works of any artist mentioned in conjunction with royal animals.

So when I came across Landseer’s “Study of a Dog Head” I almost flipped out thinking I had uncovered a long forgotten Border Collie of the early 19th century. Surely this must have been a dog he was commissioned to paint while visiting the Queens kennels, no?

Border Collie coloring, Border Collie ears, but those hush puppy eyes and a thick muscular neck that doesn’t come off the skull like a collie gave me doubts. And just look at the heavy bone and large toes in those feet.

Thanks to an excellent post by Retrieverman, I had my answer:

It is possible that collie types were among the dogs that came with the first settlers of Newfoundland and were part of the St. John’s Water Dog Breed. My evidence for this theory is a painting by Sir Edwin Landseer in which he shows a Newfoundland dog.

Newfoundlands were popular in his day, and most in Europe were black and white. Many had a distinct collie appearance, as this one did. The black and white Newfs eventually became less popular than their solid colored relatives. The black and white ones are known as Landseers, and in the FCI countries, it is a separate breed from the solid-colored Newfoundland. In the Anglophone countries, it is considered a color variety of Newfoundland.

The aforementioned painting is Landseer’s Neptune:

The largest painting, and a most fetching one indeed, depicts a life-size Newfoundland in a Scottish landscape. He is “Neptune,” painted on the 60-by-79-inch canvas in 1824 by Edwin Landseer (1802-73), England’s pre-eminent 19th-century painter of animals.

Landseer painted the handsome Neptune several times; in fact the black-and-white variation of the breed is called a Landseer Newfoundland because he made it famous. In this portrait the dog has adopted a heroic pose, standing at attention on a rocky cliff above the sea. Behind him men are hauling fishing boats onto the shore as menacing black storm clouds fill the distant horizon.

Newfoundlands were known as sea-rescue dogs, and Neptune is ready to spring into action, a lifesaver on patrol, as the wind whips the sea into whitecaps (and flattens the fur of his meticulously depicted coat).

“ ‘Neptune’ is regarded as one of the greatest 19th-century canine portraits,” said Clare Smith, a specialist at Christie’s. “It shows both Landseer’s mastery of anatomy and his ability to capture a dog’s personality.”

W. D. Gosling, a member of the Gosling banking family, commissioned the portrait, then had it framed with oak timbers salvaged from the H.M.S. Téméraire, a warship that fought alongside Lord Nelson’s Victory in the Battle of Trafalgar. The portrait is expected to sell for $800,000 to $1.2 million.

An interesting parallel between Neptune and my Mercury, besides being named after mythological gods/planets, is the morphology of the white coloring. Notice that Neptune’s white blaze forms around a central black void at the crest of head just like Mercury:

Mercury Curled Up

This spot, along with an homage to the traditional Border Collie name of “Mirk” (gaelic for Black), is the genesis of Mercury’s name: Astraean Mercury Rising. His blaze looks like a small black sphere ascending through a white flame, much like the planet closest to the Sun. He was the second puppy born and the first was named after the Sun itself.

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About Christopher

Christopher Landauer is a fifth generation Colorado native and second generation Border Collie enthusiast. Border Collies have been the Landauer family dogs since the 1960s and Christopher got his first one as a toddler. He began his own modest breeding program with the purchase of Dublin and Celeste in 2006 and currently shares his home with their children Mercury and Gemma as well. His interest in genetics began in AP Chemistry and AP Biology and was honed at Stanford University.