Fri, 05/13/2022 - 10:19pm

A Bulldog Selection

Collectors of this quintessentially British breed have a bounty of options

The Bulldog – one of the most instantly recognizable breeds in the world and one that over the last 200 years has altered greatly and not been without controversy. Arguably it is one for which there are the most art and collectables available, with serious collectors amassing some sizeable collections.

With a price tag of £8,500, Hancocks of London offer a pair of Victorian Essex Crystal cufflinks circa 1880s, each double-ended gold cufflink set with two round reverse-intaglio rock crystals carved and painted with the head of a Bulldog. As each head and the collars the dogs wear are different, one can assume they are individual portraits.

 

Originating in the mid-19th-Century in Belgium, this reverse carving and painting technique spread throughout Europe to England. A steady hand was required to carve the reverse of the cabochons and then carefully paint them so that the finished result, viewed from the front of the dome, was three dimensional. These cufflinks are an incredibly fine example.

Most painted pottery and terracotta dogs originate from Austria, but Adams Auctioneers in Dublin sold a particularly fine detailed pottery English example of a seated Bulldog. Almost life size and with a very expressive face, it found a new home mid-estimate at 650 Euros.

 

 

Iona Antiques in London were the leaders in naïve and provincial school paintings, and the striking portrait of a black-and-white dog named “Mischief” was once in their collection. Painted circa 1890 by the little-known but highly accomplished prolific late 19th-Century portrait painter of dogs, Edward Aistrop, “Mischief” was owned by J.S. Pybus Sellon, a prominent breeder and exhibitor of Bulldogs at the end of the century. With a name change to “Dimple,” she was exported to America.

Another prolific dog artist, this time working in the earlier years of the 20th Century, was Henry Crowther, who developed a distinctive, somewhat “wooden” style. Little is known about him other than he was based in Runcorn on Merseyside and a prominent exhibitor of his work at Crufts in the late 1920s, when an artists’ gallery in the Gilbey Hall was a feature of the show. He was also one of the first artists to travel to shows seeking commissions from exhibitors. Crowther had the foresight to put the subjects’ full names on the canvas (although not in the case of the white Bulldog, which is just inscribed “Derek”), which greatly benefits today’s historians.

 

 

“We Stand Firm” is possibly the only patriotic picture painted by Crowther. He completed it in 1915, a year after the start of World War I. The “British Bulldog” stands firm on the shore of the English Channel against any possible invasion from across the water.

As equally prolific as Crowther, although much better known, was Reuben Ward Binks (1880-1950), who gathered around him a list of patrons that read like a “Who’s Who” of the “good and the great” in dogdom in the U.K., U.S. and India.

 

 

Binks’ output was chiefly sporting dogs, so his study of three Bulldog heads was an unusual subject for the artist and would rank alongside his better work. Artists would often commit themselves that little bit harder when they ventured from what was their norm. The dogs are, from left, “Ch. Lochaber,” “Ch. Challenger” and “Ch. Caulfield Monarch.”

“Challenger,” the earliest of the three, was born in 1913 and won three Challenge Certificates, the last at Crufts. “Monarch” – previously called “Ospringe Monarch” – was by far the most successful of the three, winning 12 CCs, including two at Crufts and the Bulldog Club show. In “The Bulldog Handbook,” John F. Gordon describes “Monarch” as “a stud dog of great value to the breed and a popular winner of those days.” “Lochaber” was also the winner of three CCs. He was owned and bred by Dr. W. Anderson, who had an enviable record, producing a string of champions in quick succession.

Always assuming that Binks did not paint the picture for his own pleasure, there is a mystery who commissioned it, as much of his work was on commission and there is no obvious link between the three dogs. Whoever it was, they must have thought highly of the three dogs to want them immortalized alongside each other.

 

 

Collecting objects connected with smoking is a field all on its own, and there is a myriad of things available, from ashtrays to humidors, cheroot holders to advertising. While smoking itself is less popular and less acceptable, interest in most cases for the paraphernalia around it remains strong. One branch that continues to go from strength to strength is small silver cases. Two contrasting examples are the vesta case with a photographic reproduction of a prize-winning dog (above) and a finely enamelled cigarette case (below).

 

 

The Bulldog is a breed that those with creative minds delighted in anthropomorphizing. The Victorian/Edwardian sitting spelter model of a Bulldog dressed as a sailor smoking a pipe (below) is just one of many examples.

 

 

The Bulldog became the symbol of Britain at war – “The Bulldog Breed” – and patriotic representations of the breed appeared in wartime on virtually everything from fine art to postcards to advertising to sculpture. It is probably true to say the breed helped to raise the spirits of the British people.

Royal Doulton created patriotic Bulldog models in both world wars. The sitting Bulldog draped with the Union Jack across its back was introduced into the range in three sizes in 1941.

 

 

It was modelled by Charles Noke, who joined Doulton from Royal Worcester in 1889. He rose through the ranks to become art director in 1914, a position he held until he retired in 1936. He was responsible in no small part for Doulton models becoming the major English ceramics collected around the world. He continued to work at Doulton until his death in 1941 at age 81. The Bulldog draped with the Union Jack is possibly one of the last pieces Noke worked on. A sign of the popularity of this model is that fakes appeared on the market toward the end of the last century, lighter in weight than the originals and with a weaker color scheme.  

 

 

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