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Brooke Astor's Dog Painting Collection
"I am obviously a dog lover"
I got my hands on some old copies of Architectural Digest and was reading the May of 1986 issue and came upon the Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. profile that starts off with the line “The very name evokes a grande dame…” With a lede like that, you can imagine where it goes from there. It’s got lines like “She is wealthy and could so easily waste her days in aimless social diversion,” and “She not only reads books but writes them.” Very Rich people, they’re just like us…but they’re not in a way that comes off as ass-kissey, but also sort of sweet. If it’s 1986 and I’m a subscriber to the magazine, I’m not looking for some Brooke Astor takedown; gimme the glow, baby!
What I am looking for, and what the profile delivers on, is Ms. Astor’s dog obsession. There’s a picture of her hanging out at her country estate in Westchester with her dogs Henry O.K. Astor, Freddy the dachshund and Maizie the schnauzer. Regal old-money ladies and their dogs is one of my favorite topics, but after reading the article, I’m starting to think that Ms. Astor is an all-timer. Not only did she have her dogs, but she was also a collector of 19th-century dog paintings, and owned ones done by Edwin Landseer, John Frederick Herring and others.
This feels like a good hobby if you have Astor money. I think it’s what I’d do if I could afford it. When I go to a museum and I look at a painting, if there’s a dog in it, my eyes will focus on the pup. It doesn’t matter what else is around it. I find painted dogs from the old days to be endlessly wonderful and also often hilarious. Take, for instance, this 19th-century painting of “Codina, believed to be Lady Hamilton's poodle” that sold at auction for $86,500 at auction in 1999. I would absolutely pay that kind of money if I could on this pup looking absolutely pissed that somebody shaved it.
What about George Earl’s Victorian-era painting of a pug named Punch? Look at how incredibly dumb this beautiful boy looks. Somebody paid nearly 10K for this and I say it is money very well spent. If you are going to spend that sort of cash on a painting of a pug, make sure the tongue is sticking out. That should really increase the value.
Another sort of 19th-century dog painting I’m a big fan of is the “Precious little prince(ess)” sort of work like this French oil of a Chihuahua just sitting on a pillow, looking at you, judging whatever it is you’re doing because it doesn’t involve them and their happiness.
I’m guessing there are ways to spend far less than an Astor would. You could probably pick up some of these kinds of paintings if you troll tag sales or haunt vintage spots along the Eastern Seaboard. But I think if you’re going to have a long-term design hobby, a collection of old paintings of dogs is a nice one.