In mid-December of 1977 I found myself at the last dog show of the year, the Credit Valley Show, held back then at the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto, desperately seeking a Christmas gift for my wife. There were booths galore but one item caught my eye and I kept coming back to it. It was a large framed print of a Landseer Newfoundland. I was enthralled by the quiet dignity and simple elegance that it projected.
Nervously, I asked the price. Two hundred dollars was the answer. I gulped – this was way over my budget and I was barely making the mortgage payments. The man at the booth patiently explained that this was a mezzotint print, almost a lost art. It was done by a relative of the artist and was in the original frame and glass; only the mat was new. He had recently acquired it at a flea market from a vendor who didn’t appreciate what he had. Looking at it closely I noticed that it was done in 1854. So hoping that my wife would like it so much that she wouldn’t ask how much it cost, I pulled out my Chargex card and went in debt for a flea market picture.
On Christmas day, Maribeth was ecstatic about her gift and I knew that if an artist like her loved it then I had got my money’s worth. Only later when I visited the shop that had run the booth did I learn that at a recent auction in England, such a print was sold for 2,000 pounds. The shop owner then said each and every time that I visited his place, “I wish I hadn’t sold you that print”. One day I queried him on this since he didn’t even own a Newf. His answer was that this was the most famous of all dog pictures.
The print was a copy of Sir Edwin Landseer’s A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society painted in 1837 and first publicly exhibited in 1838. It depicts Bob, a stray Newfoundland in London who kept saving people (at least 23) from drowning in the Thames River. He was adopted by the Royal Humane Society and given a special roving commission to save lives. In the book This is The Newfoundland, edited by Mrs Maynard K. Drury, it is stated that Landseer “… combined both physical conformation with facial expression of heroic dignity that entranced the public.”
Unfortunately my mezzotint is the best you can see of this famous painting at the moment. The Tate Gallery in London has taken the original off display because it is badly in need of restoration. The Newfoundland Club of America is attempting to raise $25,000 US to restore what many feel is the most significant painting in the history of the Newfoundland dog. The Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada has already donated $1,000 in US funds towards this worthy cause.
When restoration is completed, the painting will be moved to the US for three years and hung in the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog in St. Louis, Missouri before returning to its permanent place in London. This means that we in North America will not have to cross the big pond to see this historic painting.
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.
Permission is granted for re-publication of the preceding article or excerpts from it as long as the author is credited and the name of the original publication and date of first publication is included.Dogs in Canada