While the Newfoundland dog has often been portrayed in art in various media, one work of art stands out as having the most influence on the breed. In 1837, Sir Edwin Landseer painted a “A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society“. While not the only painting of a white and black Newfoundland by the renown artist, it was the one that through mass reproduction became a household staple in Britain and North America. It not only enhanced the breed in general but also stopped the trend to black only Newfs.
There were two Newfs involved with this famous piece of art. The first was Bob who was the actual “Distinguished Member”. Originally a ship’s dog, after two shipwrecks Bob became a stray in London, England. Soon he was famous locally for saving several people from drowning in the Thames River. The Royal Humane Society then adopted him and gave him a gold medal along with a special roving commission to save lives. In his 14 years he is credited with saving at least 23 lives.
The other Newf connected to the famous painting is the one that Landseer used as his model since Bob was not available to him. The magnificent Landseer Newfoundland named Paul Pry belonged to Newman Smith and was bred by Philip Bacon. It is reported that on a visit to the Smith household, the Newfoundland dog came into the room carrying a basket of flowers in his mouth. On command of his owner, the dog went up to Sir Edwin and offered him the flowers. The artist thought he had never seen so large and fine a dog and offered to paint a picture of him. Landseer was so impressed with the kind, intelligent eyes of the handsome powerful dog that he had him brought to his studio within a few days despite having a long waiting list of animals to be painted.
While the painting shows the dog on a stone wharf with water lapping against an iron mooring ring, ears slightly lifted and waiting to go to the rescue if someone should need him, Paul Pry did his posing just lying on a large table in the artist’s studio. However that was enough to inspire what some call the greatest of all canine portraits.
Peter Maniate has been writing columns for the Newf News, the magazine of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada, since 1979. In 1996 he started writing a Newfoundland dog column in the Breedlines section of Dogs in Canada magazine on behalf of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada. When Dogs in Canada ceased publication at the end of 2011 he continued the Breedlines column in the Newf Newfs.
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