Dogs Playing Poker is one of the most iconic gambling related painting, with thousands of reproductions around the world adorning the walls of various pubs, workingmen’s clubs or bars.
The artist who painted the piece was Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, but the story of how the painting which eventually sold for $650,000 came to be is not that straightforward. Coolidge painted the picture in 1903 after being hired by a cigar manufacturing company to make paintings of his dogs in human-like situations, which would then be used for advertising purposes.
In this particular instance, Coolidge thought that one of the most human-like things that he could transpose his dogs into was playing poker and smoking cigars. Although he is known for one particular painting, Coolidge – who often signed his work as Kash Coolidge – made a whole series of dogs playing poker. In fact there were nine paintings of dogs engaged in some form of betting, gambling and card playing which you can see to this day.
But there are others, a total of 16 actually, with dogs taking part in other human activities, such as Breach of Promise suit, where a dog is testifying in court. Others include A Bachelor’s Dog, featuring a canine reading the mail. Users can click here to see them. The paintings show friends mending cars, camping and even caring for other sick friends.
The concept of painting scenes related to gambling goes back further. Rembrandt, for example, painted a picture in 1665 showing gamblers quarrelling while drinking in a Dutch tavern.
Cards are also shown in various Renaissance pieces, but gambling was frowned upon in high circles during that era and as a result, the works in question were not that popular. Not that many survive and it is thought that some were lost simply because no one knew that they would become popular in the future.