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, heart-tugging watercolor portrait, our precocious pet is shown either being helpful by retrieving a glove, or, like my dog, ready to mischievously run off with it in order to tear it to pieces. I prefer to give this kindly-looking dog the benefit of the doubt, but you never know.
The artist used her medium to give the spaniel long, flowing fur on both ears. The head is painted so finely that the individual hairs can be seen on the muzzle and around the eyes. Even the whiskers are deftly depicted at just the right place. Everything about this dog is exquisitely painting; the shading was masterfully accomplished so that it has a strong presence.
The background was primarily left in the cream colored paper, with a hint of gray on each side. The added humorous element of the glove helps tell the story of someone’s prized pet. This mid-19th century watercolor was not signed.
It is housed in an antique wooden and gesso frame with a gilded slip. It was embellished with a beaded row that separates the slip from the larger portion of the frame. The frame is not original to the piece, but suits the painting well.
The watercolor is in excellent condition. The paper is slightly aged, which only adds antique character to the piece. The frame is in good condition, with a few losses of gilding here and there; but with antique gilded frames this is common.
It measures 16-1/2 inches square, including the frame.
Victorian Mid-19th Century Watercolor Portrait of a King Charles Spaniel Dog
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