Well, we are on the penultimate day of Sobvent and what a thoroughly miserable month it has been! Splendid! I thought today I'd do the wonderfully depressing animal art of Briton Riviere, notably this one...
|The Last of the Garrison (1875) Briton Riviere|
My Nan would have absolutely loved this as she was a connoisseur of a wretched picture, having two sobbing gypsy children on her kitchen wall. So, what we have here is the aftermath of a siege or battle in an important house. The battle has done rather appalling things to the plasterwork and blown a door off its hinges (is that a cannonball hole?), but centre-stage is a lovely dog, having a little nap. He is having a sleep, right? A nice little snooze on an unfortunate red stain on the floor... Never mind the absolute devastation and loss of life in the battle, someone shot the dog! That is really going too far. He was only a day away from retirement too! Sob!
|Companions in Misfortune (1883)|
Riviere is a repeat offender with his miserable pictures involving animals, especially dogs. He did do a good dog, I'll give him that. Out Landseer-ing Landseer in narrative scenes, he brings us treasures such as Companions in Misfortune where a small, miserable terrier is homeless with his worryingly gun-toting owner. Yes, I think I'd look a bit shifty too with nothing but a massive shotgun to keep you warm. Not the most comforting of thoughts.
|His Only Friend (1871)|
'I know other people,' thinks the dog, 'and if you tragically snuff it by this milestone, your feet are looking fairly delicious right now.'
|The Last of the Crew (1883)|
Here we have a fairly rare example of a polar explorer who did not eat the hunting dogs first, which really doesn't seem to have worked out for him, to be honest. The dogs look fairly unimpressed, and I think they are eating the penultimate of the crew, but really, how did they think it would work out? How did they think it was going to end when the chap had 'Doomed Polar Explorer' written on his business card? When he's not paying attention, they will eat him and fashion a raft out of his many fur coats and sail to safety. Hurrah!
I really get the impression that Riviere did not find children cute or appealing, a sort of anti-Carroll, if you will. He seems almost unable to paint a picture of a child without sneaking a dog into it. I wonder if proud mothers took their cute little poppets along to Mr Riviere's studio in order to get them painted and he looked at them and frowned. 'Yes, yes, Mrs Ponsomby-Smythe, little Agatha is all very clever, but I'm just going to stick this terrier next to her because it will draw attention away from how homely she is. I'm doing you a favour, Love.' I think, for Riviere, dogs had a way of expressing emotion very clearly, far more than humans. I have a bit of a theory, which is completely spurious and fanciful, but I wonder if Riviere was on the autism spectrum. I wonder if he felt the need for some clarity in the emotion of a piece and that animals are clear and honest in their feelings. An animal cannot and would not hide or disguise emotion, but humans are tricksy and false. For Riviere, the truth of the picture does not lay in the human but the animal. As I said though, he might have just found children unappealing on their own, which is fair enough in a lot of cases.
Here we have a very noble dog praying for the rest of his dead master. I wonder if that is the same dog as in the first painting? Or a relative? Did Riviere have regular dog models, I wonder, and if so, is this a whole new line in biography? Maybe 2020 will be the year I become the leading light in animal biography of leading canine models of the 19th century. It is a shamefully neglected field and I bet they knew loads of scandal...
See you on Christmas Eve for the last installment.