Dogs Playing Poker

Posted by Jhan Dudley on

Dogs Playing Poker refers to a series of paintings by artist, C. M. Coolidge. It was commissioned in 1903 by the Brown & Bigelow marketing company Although it may not be a classic in the art world, but 'Dogs Playing Poker' does have quite the history. Here are some facts you may not know. 

1. Created To Promote Cigars

In 1903, the Brown & Bigelow advertising company he was commissioned to do some paintings for the “remembrance advertising company, . He began churning out works such as A Bold Bluff, Poker Sympathy, and Pinched With Four Aces. His paintings would be reproduced as posters, calendars, and prints, or used for promotional giveaways.  

2. Not the Real Name

A Friend in Need  is the most beloved of Coolidge's 16 piece series. Commonly misnamed 'Dogs Playing Poker', it pits a pair of bulldogs against five huge hounds. Who could blame them for slipping helpful cards under the table with their toes?

3. The Father of 'Comic Foregrounds'

Coolidge already had a quirky artistic claim to fame— as the father of 'Comic Foregrounds'. Those are the carnival poster boards tourists stick their heads in for comical mug shots.

4. Not Considered 'Genuine Art'

Commissioned for commercial use, these paintings are regarded most often as kitsch, art that is basically 'bad to the bone'. They were once characterized by magazine editor, Mark Harris, as "...a poor-taste parody of 'genuine' art."  Popularity and prestige do not always come hand in hand. Art critics have long sneered at the commissioned works. His obituary described his greatest artistic accomplishment as "painted many pictures of dogs."

5. A Home Décor and Trinket Staple

In the 1970s, when kitsch was king, demand for Dogs Playing Poker hit its peak. As art critic, Annette Ferrara put it, "These signature works, for better or worse, are indelibly burned into the subconscious slide library of even the most un-art historically inclined person through their incessant reproduction on all manner of pop ephemera: calendars, t-shirts, coffee mugs, the occasional advertisement."

6. They're Not All Playing Poker

Coolidge painted 16 pieces within this collection, but only nine of them actually show dogs playing poker. Higher Education displayed helmeted pups playing football. New Year's Eve in Dogsville imagines a romantic soiree with dinner and dancing dogs. And Breach of Promise Suit showed a canine courtroom. 

7. Coolidge Paintings Fetch Big Bucks

A 1998 auction saw a Coolidge original sell for $74,000 at Sotheby's. Then in 2005, A Bold Bluff and Waterloo: Two were put up for auction. The pair of rare paintings was at first expected to fetch $30,000 to $50,000. But the anonymous winning bidder paid a whopping $590,400 for them, setting a record for the sale of Coolidge works. 

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