Dogs Playing Poker

Dogs Playing Poker

I am assuming many reading this post recall seeing a print of a painting depicting dogs playing poker. They are unlikely to be found displayed in homes adorned with paintings in original oils and watercolors, and a few Monet prints. Dogs Playing Poker prints more likely decorate a wall in what some consider low-class places like seedy bars, run down trailer parks, messy college dorm rooms, and pool halls. Sign me up…I always wanted a copy but was dissuaded from it in the past by outside influences with comments like, “Oh…that’s tacky.” Next time I find one for sale, I just might make a purchase.

Dogs Playing Poker actually references a 1894 painting, a series of sixteen oil paintings, and a 1910 painting by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge. Browne & Bigelow contracted the sixteen paintings to advertise cigars. Only nine of the sixteen-piece collection shows dogs playing poker. The others, involved dogs in sports, dancing, and other activities. The most famous of the series, A Friend In Need, one dog is shown passing and Ace to another dog that needs four Aces. The Paintings have been used in TV shows including, Cheers, Roseanne, The Simpsons, Family Guy, NewsRadio, That ‘70s Show, White Collar, and Boy Meets World. They have also been used in movies, a music album cover, songs, comic strips, and video games. Experts forecasted that two of the paintings would sell in the $30,000 to $50,000 range at a New York art auction in 2005. CNN headlines reported them “fetching a staggering $590,400” the next day. In 2015, Coolidge’s masterpiece, Poker Game, sold for $658,000 through Southeby’s.

dogs playing poker
Poker Game

Coolidge went by the nickname “Cash” and has been described as a hustler whose life showed many career changes. He worked painting street signs and houses. He tried other professions like druggist, art teaching, cartoonist, wrote an opera, and started his own bank and newspaper. The invention of life-size boardwalk cutouts of characters or animals one sticks their head through a hole to be photographed is credited to Coolidge. Art critics have long sneered at the commissioned works Coolidge painted. Even his 1934 obituary described his greatest artistic accomplishment as “painted many pictures of dogs.” Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia issued a press release proclaiming an intent to exhibit Dogs Playing Poker. It was followed by an editor’s note which announced, “April Fool!” Coolidge’s wife and daughter were unimpressed by Dogs Playing Poker. In 2002, 92-year-old daughter Gertrude told the New York Times that she and her mother were more cat lovers, but she admitted, “You can’t imagine a cat playing poker. It doesn’t seem to go.”

Although many critics dismissed Coolidge’s work as trivial, it has been proposed that Dogs Playing Poker was a satirical series intended to mock the upper class for their excesses and attitudes.

Note

This topic prompted by the following passage from the novel, The Field Trip:

Classifying his motel room as a disappointment would
have been an upgrade; it was a pigsty. Water-stained, faded
wallpaper curled in large sheets exposing the crumbling,
rough plaster in patches. To bring light into the room, he
opened the dust-filled curtains to clusters of dead flies
lining the windowsill. Ross threw his suitcase onto the
tattered blanket covering the bed, forcing him to cough
when a cloud of dust plumed into the room. He walked to
the bathroom and abruptly halted at the threshold. Looking
down he could only shake his head and laugh out loud at
the exposed floor joists and the long rectangular gaps filled
with insulation. “Thank heavens it’s only one night,” he
said walking back to the foot of the bed. He sat on the edge
of the creaky mattress and dropped his head into his hands.
The flight, combined with the previous night’s acrobatics
with Marsha had sapped all his energy. Thoughts of Marsha
brought his head up to face the filmy, cracked mirror above
the dresser to confront the reflection of a tired, bloodshot-eyed
loser. “Well, here we are again, alone as usual. She was
so loving. I can’t believe the bitch was just using me,” he
argued. “Okay, I’m a jerk.”

Ross glanced at the tilted painting to the right of the
mirror. Dogs playing poker on a velvet canvas layered with dust.

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