Exhibition in Newmarket puts the spotlight on man’s best friend

A new exhibition opening at Newmarket’s National Horse Racing Museum this summer is heaven scent for dog lovers and puts the spotlight on man’s best friend.

Opening on July 28 and running through to November 1, “The Good Companions: The Many Roles of our Canine Friends” is an exploration of our relationship with dogs down the centuries.

It features paintings, drawing, sculptures, photographs, books and objects, and even taxidermy of four-legged friends.

Among the works on display, are pieces by such luminaries as George Stubbs, William Hogarth, Edwin Landseer, Dame Elisabeth Frink and Sir Alfred Munnings, with depictions of dogs ranging from cheerful mongrels and sleek greyhounds to determined terriers.

Each of the 30-plus works were specially chosen by curator Katherine Field as they tell extraordinary stories about individual dogs.

She said: “It’s been really exciting putting together such a wide ranging, engaging and fun survey of our relationship with our canine friends across the centuries – with some fantastic loans we are going to be telling amazing stories of friendship, bravery and much more … we cannot wait to share them with our visitors.”

The earliest pieces in the exhibition are “A Gentleman with a Dog in a Wood” (c.1746, Gainsborough’s House) by Thomas Gainsborough and William Hogarth with his pet, “Painter and his Pug” (1746, Private Collection). Elisabeth Frink’s delightful, cast bronze sculpture of a seated terrier, “Childhood” (1992, Private Collection), is one of the last artworks she made before her death in 1993.

“The Good Companions” follows a series of distinct themes: Dogs as Companions, Dogs as Heroes and Sporting Dogs.

In the former, visitors will see representations of artists own dogs such as Hogarth’s pug, Trump, along with Philip de László’s Chinky and Sir Alfred Munnings’ Black Knight, both Pekingese.

During his pampered life, Black Knight also enjoyed celebrity status.

Munnings’ wife, Violet, took Black Knight with her everywhere: to exhibitions and horse events, even formal dinners and grand receptions. Spotted at a function at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country residence, Black Knight was splashed across the papers the following day and fame quickly followed. Such was his obvious appeal that the little black dog published his memoirs, “The Diary of a Freeman” (with illustrations by Sir Alfred), a copy of which can be seen in “The Good Companions” (1953, British Sporting Art Trust Library Collection).

Another famous dog, Edward VII’s Caesar, appears in the exhibition, the wire-haired fox terrier heartbreakingly photographed walking behind the King’s coffin during his funeral in 1910, ahead of nine kings and other heads of state (Royal Collection).

The Heroes section takes visitors through a display of dogs working to help save lives during times of conflict.

From Rip, a search dog for Poplar Air Raid Precautions (ARP) and Jet searching through rubble during the Blitz, to Edith Cavell’s Jack (works all from Imperial War Museum Photograph Archive).

Cavell was the British nurse who saved hundreds of allied troops’ lives in German-occupied Belgium, during the First World War. Tragically, she was arrested on August 5, 1915, and tried by court martial on October 7, 1915, before being executed by firing squad. Cavell is photographed in happier times, in her garden in Brussels, with her beloved dogs Jack and Don.

Following Edith’s death, Jack pined for her and he would occasionally bite the nurses and other staff working in her hospital. Because of his behaviour, he was shipped from pillar to post but eventually found a stable home with the Dowager Duchess de Croÿ, whose family had taken part in hiding fugitives alongside Edith Cavell.

Settled, Jack saw out his days with the Duchess and her other dogs in contentment and was preserved after his death.

He is currently looked after by the Imperial War Museum, but it is hoped he will be making a special trip to Newmarket for the purposes of the exhibition.

Of course, no exhibition at Newmarket’s National Horse Racing would be complete without a section devoted to sporting dogs.

From merry spaniels in Francis Hayman’s “Thomas Nuthall and his Friend Hambleton Custance” (c.1748, Tate, on display at NHRM) and George Stubbs’ finely observed “A Spaniel”, with its nose characteristically sniffing the ground and a pointer pointing (British Sporting Art Trust, 1776), to hounds hunting (in a series of Robert Bevan lithographs called Hunting Scenes, private collection, 1898) and two playful water dogs carrying a stick together (a William Ward mezzotint after Ben Marshall, British Sporting Art Trust, c.1800), “The Good Companions” reveals the unique bond between humans and canines; both as workers in the field, family members in the home and ultimately, our very best of friends.

For more information about this exhibition and other events visit www.palacehousenewmarket.co.uk, or follow @palacehousenkt on Facebook and @palacehouse_nkt on Twitter.

Pictured above is Sir Alfred Munnings’ wife Violet with Black Knight.

 

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