Dogs playing poker - entertaining? Definitely. A masterpiece? Maybe! While admittedly you’ll probably never see one of these pieces hanging on the walls of the Louvre, there’s no denying their global recognition! From film to tv and music, there’s no pop culture area the iconic “Dogs Playing Poker’ painting hasn’t touched.
Today we’re going to dive into its long history to try to uncover what’s behind its charm!
Firstly, it’s important to note that Dogs Playing Poker isn’t just one painting, it’s a series painted by American artist, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. A.K.A “The most famous American artist you’ve never heard of.” Coolidge is considered quite a humourous artist, who used his art to add colour to the lives of his audience. Thus, he rather creatively concocted and expertly executed the various arrangements of canines in amusing situations.
With sixteen instalments in the Dogs Playing Poker series, the most recognisable painting is probably A Friend in Need. While this was painted as a commission for an advertising agency attempting to sell cigars, it’s endured well beyond that job. A Friend in Need pits a pair of bulldogs against five huge hounds and they’re not exactly playing an honest game. But hey, given the competition, who could blame them for trading helpful cards under the table?
Interestingly enough, although the whole series is called Dogs Playing Poker, only 9 of the paintings actually stay true to that name, depicting various poker games played by dogs. Higher Education displayed helmeted pups playing football. New Year's Eve in Dogville imagines a romantic soiree with dinner and dancing dogs. In contrast, Breach of Promise Suit shows the more serious scene of a canine court.
In 2002, 92-year-old Gertrude told The New York Times that she and her mother were more cat people than dog lovers, but she admitted, "You can't imagine a cat playing poker. It doesn't seem to go."
Along with his wife and daughter, critics also weren’t overly complimentary of the Dogs playing poker series. In fact, Coolidge’s work wasn’t appreciated to the point that it was actually mocked by those in the art world. However, since being launched on the high-end art world, there are those who voiced support for Dogs playing poker. Most notably, Patrick J. Kiger and Martin J. Smith, the authors of Poplorica: A Popular History of the Fads, Mavericks, Inventions and Lore that Shaped Modern America, pointed out that Dogs Playing Poker should be looked at as a commentary on the upper-class’ overindulgence and lavishness.
A Good Draw
Given the negative reviews by official critics, it might be a surprise to learn that these pieces come with a flashy price tag. Like many creative pieces that don’t find acclaim during their initial launch, Dogs Playing Poker has since found a place in niche circles.
The most Coolidge ever received in return for one of these paintings was $74,000. A mere fraction of what these paintings sell for today. In 2005, A Bold Bluff and Waterloo were purchased for as much as $590,400. Another piece in the series, Poker Game, sold in 2015 for an eye-watering $658,000. Many believe the reason for the high price tag on Poker Game is due to the fortuitous hand about to be played by one of the dogs. The scene clearly paints a scenario where one player is on the edge of a big win thanks to a very lucky Four of a Kind hand. WIth superstition playing a heavy role in many poker circles, perhaps the buyer thought this particular painting would bring with it some of that special luck.