Can a group of various dog breeds sit and hang out like humans?
Maybe, not. Through art, it can be possible. Actually, through imagination, everything is possible.
This thought seemed to be taken seriously by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, as he has produced 18 sketches of dogs for the series Dogs Playing Poker.
Each painting in Dogs Playing Poker depicts a different human scenario; its composition and colors are so intriguing that they develop a new perspective.
Out of all, our main focus shall be on “A Friend in Need,” as it’s the most famous Dogs Playing Poker painting.
Fact: Cassius, the artist, had to face criticism and hatred for his dog artwork depiction and composition; art critics and lovers at that point even found this art concept absurd and irrelevant.
However, as time passed, it got its due recognition. People have not only begun to praise the artist’s other works but also are heavily attracted to buying Dogs Playing Poker’ replicas for their home decor.
But what does “Dogs Playing Poker” mean and how did it become popular?
We’ll cover each section and educate you on Dogs Playing Poker’s composition, background, and interesting facts.
Who Was Cassius Marcellus Coolidge?
Who is the artist behind the famous painting “Dogs Playing Poker”?
Cassius Marcellus Coolidge is the creator of the original “Dogs Playing Poker” painting and also an American painter who worked in various fields, from drugs to art.
As a reader, you’ll be surprised to learn that he was listed as the most unknown American artist of the 20th century.
Born in 1844 in America, Cassius began his art career during the 1860s when he started taking up gigs such as drawing cartoons for newspapers. However, it doesn’t have anything to do with him being an unpopular artist (painter of dogs).
It’s just that he wasn’t fortunate enough to enjoy the fame of producing artwork that would have value in today’s time.
Cassius would usually produce humorous drawings and paintings. After moving to Rochester, New York, he began painting dogs based on real-life events.
As his passion grew, his involvement in art flourished dramatically, resulting in the formation of famous dog artworks—the Dogs Playing Poker series.
Significance and History
It was said that the famous dog painting was inspired by the works of famous painters like Michelangelo and Paul Cezanne and was actually commissioned by Brown & Bigelow, an advertising company to promote cigars.
Let me tell you: the earliest paintings of Dogs Playing Poker were made in the 1870s.
However, when he signed a contract with an advertising company, “Brown & Bigelow,” that was when his work came into the limelight, and people began talking about him.
It’s challenging to reveal the inspiration or driving force behind the production of dogs playing poker, as it was never disclosed.
But you can guess that these most famous dog paintings were the result of his multiple job switches during his lifetime.
As a matter of fact, Cassius, the artist of famous paintings of dogs, never had a formal education or training in painting.
But he was always fascinated by dog illustrations and drawings.
At the time, he was remembered for his surreal paintings and playful illustrations, which he’d sell to magazines and newspapers.
Dogs Playing Poker is a classic example of modern kitsch artwork. Which is why its features, styles, and colors were difficult to comprehend.
Let’s analyze the composition of Dogs Playing Poker and learn how the colors and designs were made.
Composition & Analysis
In the Dogs Playing Poker painting, you’ll see pups portrayed in human forms, almost as if making a satirical point.
However, there is an inequality in the number of dogs used in these dog paintings.
As we look into its composition, we can decode the hidden message of this Cassius artwork.
Speaking about the popular Dog Playing Poker painting, firstly, all seven dogs are shown clamping cards under the lamp’s light, each one of them waiting for their turn.
The artist beautifully portrayed dogs in different postures, which symbolized men from the middle and working classes.
As you can see, the dogs have a human touch, and they are leisurely enjoying the game of poker.
Humorous, satirical, and uncanny are the best adjectives to describe this dog artwork by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge.
Isn’t it weird to show seven dogs smoking pipes like humans? The artist composed the dog painting in such a way that it somewhat degraded men’s characters who indulged in gambling.
When these paintings of dogs were created, America was going through a rough time, which is why different dog breeds were drawn to highlight certain issues. Unemployment, racial violence, fraud, and others were very common.
Which is why one can see two dogs cheating while playing the game of poker in the dog painting “A Friend in Need.” Even in “His Station and Four Aces,” you’ll find a depiction of a bus conductor catching dogs who are traveling without tickets.
What Does “A Friend in Need” Painting Mean?
Speaking about Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, A Friend in Need (1903), the painting shows four St. Bernard dogs, a bulldog, a Great Dane, and a collie involved in a game of cards.
A collie is leaning backward and is more cautious than other dog breeds.
A gray bulldog who is smoking a cigar is looking at the collie, who is trying hard to block the view of the cards.
If you look closely, you’ll see the Great Dane showing his card to St. Bernard, who is on his right. The artist is particularly trying to emphasize the cheating that is taking place at the poker table.
The other two St. Bernard dogs, with chains around their necks, look decent and fair.
Its background as well as foreground show the artist’s incredible knowledge and research on the painting.
It was a painting commissioned by an advertising firm, and it was prohibited to advertise harmful goods like beer and cigars. The artist made sure to convey the essence without being obvious. The same was very skillfully and subtly incorporated.
If you look at the background, you’ll see a clock pointing at 2, trying to add a deeper meaning to the painting.
Poker is a game that is mostly played by men at night. The time that is shown in the clock indicates that the visuals aren’t meant for children. 2 a.m. is the time when most kids are asleep and it’s safe to advertise injurious products like cigars.
This famous dog painting made sure it justified its nuances. But was it able to pull its weight when it came to its popularity, influence, and recognition in the public domain?
The “Dogs Playing Poker” painting has become more popular lately than ever.
Its appearance in shows like Courage the Cowardly Dog and sitcoms like Roseanne made it popular in US pop culture.
Even in some parts of America, interior designers suggest incorporating Dogs Playing Poker murals into their client’s homes.
Dogs playing poker may not be a serious piece of work, like other famous paintings. However, “A Friend in Need,” has still remained the most expensive artwork to be sold in the series. It was sold to an undisclosed person for a whopping amount of $658,000.
The second most expensive painting from the Dogs Playing Poker series is “A Bold Bluff” followed by “Waterloo”.
Interestingly, “Dogs Playing Poker” wasn’t even considered art because of its trivial and funny nature; however, things changed with time, and it has finally gotten its due attention.
Dogs Playing Poker paintings may be worth thousands of dollars. But in its early years, it was considered a failed art that held little value.
Art critics and collectors may have mocked the series of Dog Playing Poker for their own benefit, but these dog paintings shall always remain iconic paintings of the United States.
And you can even hang the exact piece in your bedroom or living room.
Just click on the reproduction painting to have a replica made by the experts.
The influence of Dogs Playing Poker on younger or aspiring artists was profound. It is evident in Snoop Dogg’s album “Snoop Dogg & Dr. Dre: Who Am I,” in which the painting is mounted behind the rapper.
It appeared on the screen for over 10 seconds in three different scenes. But it creates a lasting impact as it goes well with the theme and lyrics of the song.
Despite not seeing recognition in its early days, this dog poker painting later gained attention and love from across the world.
Apart from that, the other Dogs Playing Poker paintings appeared in a movie, a music album, and even a cartoon show.
You can see a playful and humorous glimpse of it in The Simpsons too.
Its influence can also be seen in various realms or ways because of its growing popularity.
When Cassius was working on Dogs Playing Poker, he took some inspiration from various artists’ works, mainly The Cheat With the Ace of Diamonds, a painting from the Louvre Museum.
In A Friend in Need, you’ll clearly see the Great Dane cheating on everyone and trying to outsmart them with foul practices.
A poker game was the same element of the series as cheating and dishonesty, the primary emotions evoked in the famous dog paintings.
The Dogs Playing Poker Series
Let’s see their titles:
- The Poker Game (1894)
- A Bachelor’s Dog
- A Bold Bluff
- A Waterloo
- A Friend In Need
- The Reunion
- His Station and Four Aces
- New Year’s Eve In Dogsville
- One To Tie, Two To Win
- Pinched With Four Aces
- Poker Sympathy
- Post Mortem
- Riding the Goat
- Sitting Up With a Sick Friend
- Stranger In Camp
- Ten Miles To a Garage
- Breach of Promise Suit (c. 1909 – 1910)
- Looks Like Four of a Kind (1910)
The Popularity of the CM Coolidge Series
A Friend in Need is the most popular and valuable painting of “Dogs Playing Poker.” Which was the fifth of the 18 paintings in this series.
The painting was solely responsible for stealing the thunder from other paintings in the same series.
1. The Poker Game
It is also known as Coolidge’s 1894 poker game.
There are St. Bernard Dogs around the table; the one who is shown in a standing position is peeking into the card clamped by the dog, who looks stressed and lost.
As the cheating is vividly displayed and the artist also adds contradictory elements to it, cigars are also being promoted.
The painting was made in 1894 and received a decent reception from art critics.
2. A Bachelor Dog
There aren’t any dogs playing poker games, as that is the main element.
The artist tried to craft a bachelor’s life as the dog was seen smoking a cigar and downing some whiskey.
The scenario shows how careless and worry less the dog has become.
It is created to show dogs playing card games in a very careless and worry-less manner, which can take them to bad places.
This Dogs Playing Poker painting was created between 1909 and 1910.
3. A Bold Bluff
There are five dog breeds seated around the poker table, where the four canines—a bulldog, a Great Dane, a collie, and a Mastador—were shown staring at the St. Bernard dog, who is clamping a cigar, and partially gazing at a Great Dane.
The bulldog playing poker painting symbolizes fear, anxiety, and unpredictability. It’s the first painting in a series of two, the other being Waterloo.
Waterloo is the last in the series, which reveals the climax.
In the first painting, the spotlight was on St. Bernard, as the rest of the dogs were waiting for him to show his cards.
In this dog-playing poker painting, the suspense is revealed and shows St. Bernard winning the coins.
Bulldog, a Great Dane, a collie, and a Mustard are in utter shock and startled to see his St Bernard dues.
St. Bernard dropped the cards while collecting the winning coins, where whiskey was spilled and cigars were dropped.
These paintings are two sides of one coin, in which the facial expressions of dogs reveal these Dogs Playing Poker meanings.
Over the years, many artists have created their own interpretations of the painting. However, one has never been close to the intricacies of this original dog painting.
In 2005, both original paintings were sold to an undisclosed buyer for a whopping sum of US $590,400.
5. His Station and Four Aces
This is the seventh painting in the Dogs Playing Poker picture/painting series, in which the artist created a scenario of passengers on the train, where the one who is clamping the cards is in shock and horror.
The reason was his disembarkation, as the conductor appeared and informed him and other passengers to deboard the train.
Dog Painting was created in 1903.
This is the fifth popular Dog Playing Poker painting after A Friend in Need, The Poker Game, A Bold Bluff, and A Waterloo.
It wouldn’t have been possible if some of his artwork hadn’t appeared in several auctions.
Some made thousands of dollars, while others were never seen publicly, thus never garnering attention or generating valuation.
Cassius was supremely talented, which can evidently be seen in his art. His mindset, painting skills, and market knowledge helped him present the product beautifully and seamlessly in front of the audience.
Dogs Playing Poker received criticism, but it dramatically helped the advertising firm that was commissioning it.
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As it’s the most popular painting related to dogs, you can also think of buying a replica; perhaps, a replica of your favorite artist’s work.
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