The history of the King Charles spaniel is as interesting as it is confusing. It is said to have originated in East Asia, which of course covers quite a number of countries. The diminutive dog in any case made its way to the royal houses of Europe as gifts as trade contacts increased, beginning in the 16th century. There, attempts were made to make the dog more of a useful hunter by breeding it with other spaniels, but its small stature, regal appearance and gentility assured its place in noble homes as delicate lapdogs for “daintie dames,” as the 16th century English physician, John Caius wrote in his “De Canibus Britannicis.” He also noted that the type of little spaniel coming out of France at the time was “rare, strange and hard to get.”
Charles II (1630-1685) seems to have gotten all the credit for giving his name to the breed, but the dogs that were allowed to freely roam through his royal palaces, even during state occasions, were probably much different than today’s version. He loved his little spaniels so much that according to the diarist, Samuel Pepys, he would often spend more time carrying on being “silly” with his dogs than paying attention to official business.
In this wonderful, large depiction of two King Charles spaniels, the artist painted them in the way they are most known; as favored, pampered pets, with the more sentimental approach that was in vogue in Victorian times. They are painted as delightfully endearing creatures, with a gentleness of expression that comes through despite their regal station. Who among us dog lovers would not want to live with either of these two precious canines?
The heads of both dogs are finely painted. There is great attention to detail in the nose, mouth, muzzle and eyes. One can even see the fine hairs on the muzzle as well as the individual whiskers. The kind eyes of both are warm and sensitive. Both dogs are shown with thick, luxurious coats.
They are pictured in a sumptuous interior, with one standing and the other sitting upon a velvet couch with real gold fringed trim. But then, because they were historically the favorites of kings and landed gentry, it is of no surprise that the house reflects this type of inherited riches, a fact that the owner of the dogs no doubt appreciated when showing off the painting to guests.
The entire painting was done in a typical Victorian style that highlights the dogs while placing them in a rather dark background. The artist used a limited palette for this picture. The black and white and brown and white spaniels are featured next to a dark pink, velvet sofa with a velvet green back. Other than the gold fringing of the sofa, these are the main colors. The dark background hints at the stateliness of the home.
The painting is housed in its original Victorian carved wood frame with a wide gesso gilded slip. This unique frame has corners that have carved roundels. These, combined with the open chain that has large carved beads within it, only adds to the work’s decorative appeal.
I have had the painting and the frame professionally restored so that it is now in ready-to-hang condition.
I can’t imagine any space that would not forever be benefited from this painting.
It measures 36-1/4 inches wide by 31 inches high, including the frame.
19th Century Portrait of Two King Charles Spaniels
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