Pets in Art

Dogs, as well as other furry, feathery and leathery friends like cats, rabbits, birds and rodents and horses, have been our best friends since history began. The subjects loved to pose with their dear dogs and cats, or the animals were included in the custom pet portraits to convey or symbolize something else. Whatever the reason, these pets are immortalized through these classic artworks.

1. “The Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck

This classic 15th-century painting by the Flemish artist Jan van Eyck has been long subject to endless debates and interpretations. Yet nothing is completely known or confirmed about this artwork, and it still remains a mystery. There is so much perceived symbolism here in this beautiful artwork, which depicted Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his new wife.

In the picture, the dog which stands between the couple is a lap dog, most likely a Brussels Griffon breed or its ancestor. Many think that the dog symbolizes loyalty, or signifies the couple’s desire to have children. Others surmised that the dog was simply a gift to the newlyweds.

2. Katharine of Aragon’s portrait by Lucas Horenbout

Katharine of Aragon's portrait by Lucas Horenbout

This 16th-century miniature painting of Henry VIII’s first wife shows herself and pet monkey. It was created by the Flemish artist Lucas Horenbout (d. 1544). The monkey’s breed is not certain, although a lot assume that it could be a marmoset.

3. A painting of Eos by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

A painting of Eos by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer

Some artworks feature only pets as a subject, and these include a portrait of Prince Albert’s favorite greyhound named Eos. It was painted by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873), who is chiefly known for his lion sculptures at London’s Trafalgar Square. However, he was also renowned as one of the foremost animal painters during his time.

4. “Signal, a Grey Arab, with a Groom in the Desert” by Dalby of York

Signal, a Grey Arab, with a Groom in the Desert" by Dalby of York

John Dalby aka Dalby of York (1810–1865) was chiefly known for his paintings that depicted animal sport and hunting scenes as well as horses.

5. Portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (presumably) by John de Critz the Elder

This portrait of of Henry Wriothesley (3rd Earl of Southampton) and his pet cat Trixie, is attributed to Flemish painter John de Critz (d. 1642). Wriothesley was among the many people imprisoned in the infamous Tower of London, who were saved by starvation by these kind-hearted felines. Trixie would climb up the tower and bring pieces of food to Wriothesley. She also kept him company until his release from the tower.

6. “Lady with an Ermine” by Leonardo da Vinci

Painted by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), this artwork features a woman named Cecilia Gallerani holding an ermine (a type of weasel). At that time, Gallerani was a mistress of Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The ermine, according to art interpreters, symbolized purity.

7. “Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight” by Joseph Wright of Derby

During his time, Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) was renowned for his “candlelit paintings,” which clearly showed his skill in the chiaroscuro effect (a painting technique which deals with the treatment of light and shade). The portrait of two girls playing with a kitty seems innocent enough, but a lot of art interpreters have picked up sexual connotations in the painting.

8. “A treat for her pet” by Guillaume Dubufe

This 19th-century masterpiece by French painter Guillaume Dubufe (1853-1909) was done with oil on canvas. It depicted a beautiful lady giving treats to her pet bird (most likely a white cockatoo).

9. “A treat for her pet” by Guillaume Dubufe

This 19th-century masterpiece by French painter Guillaume Dubufe (1853-1909) was done with oil on canvas. It depicted a beautiful lady giving treats to her pet bird (most likely a white cockatoo).

10. Frida Kahlo’s Itzcuintli Dog With Me

Frida Kahlo was a famous Mexican painter who loved dogs and to her, they fulfilled the need of children which she couldn’t have of her own. She made 143 paintings, out of which 55 had dogs presented in different forms.  Frida’s favourite was her hairless Mexican Itzcuintli, a rare and expensive breed which was named as Mr Xoloti and found in most of her artwork.

11. Lucian Freud’s Whippets

Lucian Freud was a British painter and figurative art specialist. He loved dogs and included them in many of his classic paintings, alongside human subjects. This artwork of Freud featured his favoruite Pluto when he was 12 and near to the end of his life. He deeply admired whippets and his words  “I am impressed by their lack of arrogance, their ready eagerness, their animal pragmatism” was truly depicted in this masterpiece.

12. Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s A Friend in Need

Coolidge was famously known for painting dogs playing poker. This creative masterwork is one of the 16 oil paintings that were created to advertise cigars and specially made by Brown and Bigelow in 1903. In Coolidge’s paintings, you would find dogs as highly competent, reading, playing baseball, snooker and arguing in court.


Although artists have widely used all the pets in their paintings and artwork, dogs have been evident in stealing the show and hearts of many artists. If you are an artist, we hope these paintings and artwork will inspire you to create something iconic with your pets. And if you have already created some projects, do share them with us.