Amy Robson


The central aim of this thesis is to critically examine the values associated with dogs in Victorian British art and visual culture. It studies the redefining and restructuring of the domestic dog as it was conceptualized in visual culture and the art market. It proposes that the dog was strongly associated with social values and moral debates which often occurred within a visual arena, including exhibitions, illustrated newspapers, and prints. Consequently, visual representations of the dog can be seen as an important means through which to study Victorian culture and society. Historians have agreed that the Victorian period was a significant turning point for how we perceive the dog. Harriet Ritvo, Michael Worboys and Neil Pemberton cite the Victorian period as founding or popularizing many recognisable canine constructs; such as competitive breeding; a widespread acceptance of dogs as pets; and the association of particular breeds with particular classes of people. Phillip Howell defines the Victorian period as the point at which the domestic dog was conceptually established. The figurative domestic dog did not simply exist in the home but was part of the home; an embodiment of its core (often middle class) values. As such, the domestic dog became the standard by which all other dogs were perceived and the focal point for related social debates. Yet most studies concerning the Victorian dog overlook the contribution of visual culture to these cultural developments. William Secord compiled an extensive catalogue of Victorian dog artwork and Diana Donald examined Landseer and the dog as an artistic model yet neither have fully situated the dog within a broader Victorian social environment, nor was their intention to critically examine the dog’s signification within the larger visual landscape. Chapter One provides this overview, while subsequent chapters provide studies of key canine motifs and the manner in which they operated in art and visual culture. Underpinning this thesis is a concern with the Victorian moral values and ideals of domesticity in urban environments. These values and their relation to the dog are explored through the framework of the social history of art. Seen through this methodology, this thesis allows the relationship between canine debates, social concerns, and visual representations to be understood. It will argue that the figure of the dog had a significant role to play both socially and visually within Victorian society and propose a reappraisal of the dog in art historical study.

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