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Dogs have featured in art throughout history, from the earliest cave paintings to the latest digital works. This week, the Wallace Collection in London will host the first major UK exhibition dedicated to works of art featuring our four-legged friends.

“There are no human sitters—this is just about dogs,” says Alexander Collins, the assistant curator of Portraits of Dogs: from Gainsborough to Hockney. “We’ve been very keen to have a serious reappraisal of dog portraiture. It’s a celebration of that special bond we have with dogs, and explores what dog portraits can tell us, not only about our pets, but about ourselves, our values, our moral leanings, our social standing.”

Studies of a Dog’s Paw (verso) by Leonardo da Vinci

The works come from British collections and among the highlights will be a metalpoint drawing of a dog’s paw (around 1490-95) by Leonardo da Vinci, on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland, and Edwin Lanseer’s oil painting Hector, Nero, and Dash with the parrot, Lory (1938), from the Royal Collection. The latter was painted for Queen Victoria, who “was so enamoured by [the painting] that she wrote about it in her journals saying how magnificent it was,” Collins says.

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The exhibition will include a range of media, from paintings and sculpture to drawings, jewellery and taxidermy. “We want to look at different facets, purposes, and traditions of dog art throughout the centuries, and the evolution of our relationship with them,” Collins says.

The earliest work is a Roman marble sculpture of two greyhounds by an unknown artist, on loan from the British Museum.There are also more contemporary pieces, like Lucian Freud’s 1988 painting of his whippet Pluto, and several David Hockney paintings of Stanley and Boodgie, his pet dachshunds. “They’re so familiar to everyone,” Collins says. “You can imagine being at home and seeing your dogs sleeping just in the way Hockney has captured his on canvas.”

David Hockney’s Dog Painting 41 (1995)

During research work for the exhibition, information was discovered about the dog that belonged to one of the Wallace Collection founders, Richard Wallace. “He had a dog called Snipe, who travelled with him everywhere and was his close companion,” Collins says. “He even had Snipe photographed by one of the leading 19th century photographers, and this photo features in the exhibition. So there is a lovely connection between Richard Wallace and the broader story of dogs.”

The Wallace Collection is also showing a concurrent show, The Queen and her Corgis, which opened earlier this month. The one-room photography exhibition celebrates the late Queen’s relationship with her beloved dogs. “She kept over 30 [corgis] over the course of her reign,” Collins says. “We even have a corgi family tree, so people can work out how they’re all related.”

Portraits of Dogs: From Gainsborough to Hockney, Wallace Collection, London, 29 March-15 October

The Queen and her Corgis, The Wallace Collection, London, until 25 June

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