The most charming, or at least the cutest, portrait in the Manet exhibition at the Getty Center is the painting of Bob the dog. “He’s a furry little guy and his hair is going every which way, and the brush strokes are going every which way,” associate curator Scott Allan said enthusiastically.
In fact, his lively fur got a mild grooming of sorts before he was put on view. A technique called ‘spit-cleaning,’ which uses an artificial solvent with the same pH as saliva, brightened him up.
At about 11 x 8 inches, the painting is smaller than others in the gallery and hangs near images of other animals as well as a “wall of portraits of gentlemen with fabulous mustaches,” noted associate curator Emily Beeny, admiring Bob’s fabulous facial hair. To Bob’s left hangs mustached Mr. Eugène Pertuiset with the lion he hunted; to his right, Woman with Cat, a portrait of Mrs. Manet that includes their feline, Zizi.
Wanting to know more, we asked the curators: Who was Bob?
Bob most likely belonged to Édouard Manet’s friend, Jean-Baptiste Faure, an opera singer and a significant collector of the artist’s work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
According to Beeny and Allan, Manet was painting pictures of pets for his friends and people in his inner circle. At the time, pet portraits were trendy, and he wasn’t the first to paint pets with their names inscribed on the canvas.
In the 18th century, French artists painted images of royal hunting dogs, and prior to Bob, Manet also painted dogs in the vein of regal canine portraiture.
Bob, though, is less formal. Even his name is painted in a less stately manner than seen in Tama, the Japanese Dog.
What kind of dog is he?
There’s a bit of uncertainty here. Manet scholars have identified him as a “chien griffon.” According to the American Kennel Club, the griffon is a small breed with a “big personality.” However, some visitors have suggested that perhaps he’s a Cairn terrier.
Did Bob pose for Manet?
While Manet generally liked to pose his portrait subjects, and often required many sittings, it’s not clear how he captured the image of Bob. His sketchbooks include many animal sketches in graphite, but none that indicate he was preparing this painting.
Was Bob a popular dog’s name?
We don’t know if Bob was in favor at the time, but it’s interesting to note that Renoir also had a female dog named Bob. She was cute too.
Did Manet paint other dogs?
Yes, several! At the National Gallery, you can see a portrait of a King Charles Spaniel, which Allan thinks is “the cutest of the Manet dogs,” as well as Tama.
How was Bob chosen for the Museum’s exhibition?
The painting is on loan from the collection of Ann and Gordon Getty. One of the curators’ colleagues in San Francisco drew their attention to it at the last minute, and a loan was quickly arranged. It was too late for Bob to be included in the exhibition catalogue, but happily there are postcards for sale at the gift shop.
Bob and other paintings from this later part of Manet’s life are some of the least published pictures, so we don’t have the same rich backstory that we have for other works.
What about Zizi the cat?
Well, “Zizi the cat is the real heroine of the show,” said Allan. The beloved feline belonged to Manet and can be seen in many of his paintings and sketches.