My favourite painting: Steve Dean

‘This painting raises my spirits every time I see it.'

The Open Door, 1916, by Briton Rivière RA (1840– 1920), 40in by 47in, The Kennel Club. Image courtesy of The Kennel Club

Steve Dean says:
‘This painting raises my spirits every time I see it. As a veterinary surgeon and dog owner, I admire the chiselled anatomy depicting the power and athleticism so typical of the greyhound. The soft, characteristic, relaxed posture suggests an accomplished, confident professional. And then the tantalising open door: is he considering the opportunity it offers or simply waiting patiently for his master? His eyes offer clues. Wistful, gentle and knowing with an anxious tinge—perhaps it’s a missed hare occupying his thoughts or just the anticipation of a meal being prepared behind that open door. I feel better already.’

Prof Steve Dean is Chairman of the Kennel Club.

John McEwen comments:
Briton Rivière was of Huguenot descent. His father was drawing master at Cheltenham College and later taught art at oxford, having introduced the subject to the curriculum. His son was one of his undergraduate pupils. Rivière’s early paintings, pre-Raphaelite in style, were first shown at the British Institution and, from 1863, at the Royal Academy. He was also an illustrator, initially for Punch, but his forte was animals, in which he specialised from 1865.

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When Landseer died in 1873, Rivière assumed his mantle as Britain’s foremost animal painter. He illustrated Charles Darwin’s Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals and often showed animals as equal players in mythological, biblical or historical scenes and even to highlight contemporary social issues.

‘I have always been a great lover of dogs but I have worked at them so much that I’ve grown tired of having them about me,’ he told an interviewer. ‘However, you can never paint a dog unless you are fond of it… Collies, i think, are the most restless dogs… greyhounds are also very restless, and so are fox terriers.’

The Open Door features Long Span, who won the blue riband of English Coursing, the Waterloo Cup, in 1907 for Sir r. W. Buchanan Jardine, the first Scottish winner since 1880. It was painted in the year of the Battle of the Somme, when dog and artist were in reflective old age. Rivière was narrowly beaten for the presidency of the Royal Academy in 1896, but he could congratulate himself on being an Honorary Doctor of the University.

This article was originally published in Country Life, March 25, 2015

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