Since this is the first column of the new century and the new millennium, I started looking for something appropriate to connect this moment in time to our beloved Newfs. The answer came to me as I spied my Renoir print.
Yes, Renoir painted a Newfoundland dog. The French impressionist painter, Pierre Auguste Renoir, faced with financial problems in the late 1870’s, started doing portraits of wealthy Parisians. One of these portraits is credited with rejuvenating both his career and income. Marguerite and Georges Charpentier, wealthy patrons of the artist, commissioned a family portrait in 1878 that featured Madame Charpentier, six year old Georgette, three year old Paul (dressed per the custom as a girl) and their Newfoundland dog, Porthos.
The painting, entitled Madame Georges Charpentier and her Children, involved 40 sittings. How patient and loving must Porthos have been as the six year old sat on him for those 40 sessions. No wonder my eyes are always drawn to the lower left hand corner of the picture where this Landseer lies so calmly, head between paws, taking no mind of the young girl perched casually across his back, both acting as if this was the most natural thing in the world.
Through the magic of the world wide web, you can view this painting at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.
There was a suggestion at the time that Renoir had “sold out” but I, for one, am thrilled that he captured the timeless aspect of the Newfoundland. At one time a Newf was an indispensable member of the crew of ocean vessels but technology has changed that. As we change centuries and millenniums, the Newfoundland dog will continue to evolve into new roles such as Search and Rescue Dog and Therapy Dog. However, in the 19th century and again, in the 20th century, Newfoundlands have been an indispensable part of many families, especially families with children and that is obviously going to continue into the 21st century and probably for as long as there are families. Renoir’s painting helped remind me that the essence of the Newfoundland dog is indeed timeless and the arbitrary time measurements of us humans are really of very limited significance.
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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