Dogs seem to be as popular on a canvas these days as they are on a leash, with paintings of dogs drawing big bucks and big crowds.
At the annual "dogs only" art auction held after the Westminster Dog Show, two price records were broken this year, said Alan Fausel, vice president and director of fine art at Bonhams, the auction house that runs the event.
"Dejeuner," a painting that shows dogs and cats eating from a large dish, set a record for the artist, William Henry Hamilton Trood (1860-1899), when it sold for $194,500, Fausel said. That record was broken an hour later when Trood's "Hounds in a Kennel," showing a half-dozen dogs staring at a bird outside their cage, sold for $212,500.
Story: Which breed is America's top dog this year?
Bonhams' Dogs in Show & Field auction is the only one in the country devoted solely to dogs. It was the best auction in years, Fausel said, adding: "The dog art market is certainly turning a corner."
The William Secord Gallery in Manhattan is the only gallery in the nation dedicated exclusively to dog art. "We have had an increase in visitors over past years, but also a substantial increase in sales compared to this time last year," said Secord, widely considered the world's foremost authority on 19th century dog paintings. Through March 24, the gallery is exhibiting and selling 150 dog pieces that Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge bequeathed to St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J.
Secord has written six dog art books and has collected over 2,500 works dating to 1805. He is also the founding director of the only art museum in the country dedicated to dogs, the American Kennel Club's Museum of the Dog. Secord opened his gallery because he didn't want to move when the museum relocated from New York to St. Louis.The museum has over 700 paintings, drawings, fine porcelains and bronzes on display, and gets about 12,000 visitors a year, a number that's been increasing steadily each year, said Barbara McNab, the museum's executive director.
Story: New $5-a-month cable channel launches — for dogs
The highest price ever paid for a dog painting belongs to George Stubbs (1724-1806). He painted mostly horses, but a 6-by-7-foot portrait of a Newfoundland sold for $3.6 million in 1999, Secord said.
Most of the dog art sold at the annual auctions are 19th century pieces, Fausel said, but there are a number of contemporary artists who have made names for themselves, such as Robert K. Abbett, 86, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz.