Canine Portraiture Perfection!

Centuries of canine portraiture curated by The Wallace Collection for new exhibition by Nissen Richards Studio.

Our Design Insider team couldn’t help but let this work put a smile on our faces!

Artists have drawn, painted, sculpted – and even preserved via taxidermy – their or their patrons’ pet dogs since time immemorial, celebrating the unique bond between humans and their canine companions. Now, in a brand-new exhibition – Portraits of Dogs: From Gainsborough to Hockney – a carefully-selected display of artworks, celebrating dogs and our relationship to them, has opened at The Wallace Collection in London, featuring a total of 59 works of art, with exhibition and graphic design on the project by Nissen Richards Studio.

‘We are so pleased that this delightful exhibition is finally on display after being initially delayed by the pandemic’, Pippa Nissen, Director of Nissen Richards Studio, commented. ‘Our work with The Wallace Collection is always so varied, from shows centering on the works of Indian masters to the masterpieces of Rubens or Henry Moore and the shoe designs of Manolo Blahnik. This was another fascinating – and fun – art avenue for us to explore. At the same time, our team really knows these spaces very well now and we enjoyed optimising colour, light and interesting vistas to create the very best visitor journey for the public to contemplate and enjoy these wonderful works.’

Dog portraiture is an age-old tradition, developing contemporaneously with its human counterpart and seen from the first cave paintings onwards. In Britain in particular, dog portraiture flourished from the seventeenth century onwards, with the British displaying a particular fondness both for dogs and their representation.

The Idea of curating an exhibition of dog portraiture has been in the pipeline for a long time and, fortunately, The Wallace Collection lends itself perfectly to the staging of such an exhibition’ Dr Xavier Bray, Director of The Wallace Collection commented.

The 59 works of art in the show range from the grand to the humourous and depict dogs in all shapes and sizes, displaying a brilliant range of characterisation, from Roman greyhound sculptures to a Leonardo da Vinci metalpoint focusing on the precise anatomy of a dog’s forepaw. An entire mini roomset, meanwhile, has also been given over to six paintings by David Hockney of his two dachshunds, Stanley and Boodgie, with Hockney also loaning a sketchbook to the exhibition.

Nissen Richards Studio’s design approach was to treat the portraits as if of people, giving each one significant space and appropriate grandeur, so that the personality of each sitter, as well as the differing approaches of each artist, is afforded due consideration. The grand setting, which includes a bold, dark ‘Old Masters’ palette and jewel-toned silk fabric settings within each highlight showcase, is comprised of a series of sequential room-sets featuring two setworks walls and a number of new aligned arches that optimise views and create a sense of architectural rigour and glimpsed anticipation.

‘The challenge was to create a sense of experience and give the exhibition real pace, transforming the space into something rich and precious via carefully-chosen colours and minimal built interventions that afford maximum effect through the creation of spacious and well-paced room-sets’ Marie-Lise Oulmont, Senior Associate at Nissen Richards Studio added.

Two colourways were tested in advance, with the ‘Old Masters’ sequence of shades (all by Little Greene) the clear winners for the final room-sets, bar the Hockney space, which has been painted in a slightly more contemporary red to suit the artist and his works, which are featured alongside a floor-to-ceiling photographic wallpaper of Hockney in front of a wall of his dachshund paintings. Further graphic elements in the exhibition include section panels for each of the six room-sets, as well as a large-scale, ground-floor visual announcing the project and featuring a giant portrait of a highly-coiffed poodle, instantly establishing the exhibition’s playful feel.

‘Portraits of Dogs: From Gainsborough to Hockney’ runs till 15 October at The Wallace Collection.

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About Alys Bryan

Alys is a knowledgeable design editor who is focused on instigating conversations, both online and in-person, with industry experts which challenge, educate and advance the commercial interior sector. Her training and 15 years of professional experience as a furniture designer for the commercial sector makes her uniquely placed to lead Design Insider as Editor
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