Man’s Best Friend: David Hockney's Love for Dachshunds

This protograph depicts the artist David Hockney sitting in an armchair with two dachshunds – his dogs Stanley and Boodgie - in front of a wall filled with artwork inspired by the two dogs.Dog Days © David Hockney 1993
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David Hockney is one of the world’s most famous artists, acclaimed for his contributions to the Pop Art movement and perhaps best known for his evocative depictions of California swimming pools. Born in 1937, he has been a prominent figure in the contemporary art scene for decades, with his work spanning a variety of mediums including painting, printmaking, photography and even digital art.

Throughout his long and illustrious career, one of the defining aspects of Hockney's life and work is his deep affection for his muses. Notable amongst these is his love for dachshunds, who have been recurring subjects in his work since 1987. This affection is most famously documented through portraits of his two dogs, Stanley and Boodgie, who have brought joy and inspiration to the artists and viewers alike, finding their way into Hockney’s art in a characteristically charming manner.

“I realised I was painting my best friends, Stanley and Boodgie. They sleep with me; I'm always with them here. They don't go anywhere without me and only occasionally do I leave them. They're like little people to me. The subject wasn't dogs but my love of the little creatures.”
David Hockney

David Hockney: A Life in Art

Hockney has established himself as one of the most influential British artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. His career spans over six decades and showcases a diverse range of styles and mediums, including painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and stage design. His work is known for its intellectual rigour and formal experimentation, but it is also celebrated for its maximalist beauty and emotional resonance. Early in his career, he was associated with the Pop Art movement, but his style has always been uniquely his own, defined by bright, bold colours and distinctive, simplified forms.

One of the hallmarks of Hockney's art is his fascination with perspective. His work has continually challenged the boundaries of visual representation, particularly as he began incorporating technology into art. He adopted the iPad as a medium considerably early on, using it to create digital paintings that have been widely exhibited and celebrated for their vibrancy and innovation. Despite his international acclaim, Hockney has maintained a sense of playful curiosity and a down-to-earth persona. He has been a vocal critic of the elitism that can pervade the art world and has championed a more inclusive approach to art appreciation.

Recurring themes and motifs in Hockney's work often centre around his personal life and surroundings, a blend of the personal and the universal. A significant and recurrent theme in his work is his deep appreciation of nature and the environments around him, whether it be the Yorkshire landscapes of his youth or the sun-drenched scenery of California, where he spent many years. This connection to his surroundings is expressed through a vibrant palette and a unique interpretation of light. He is also famous for his portraits, which often include friends, family and lovers, reflecting the importance of these relationships in his life – most of all with his beloved dogs, Stanley and Boodgie.

Stanley and Boodgie: Portraits of Companionship

Most dog owners can relate to the wonderful effect that the companionship of dogs can have. Hockney's own fascination with dachshunds is indicative of a deeply personal connection: he first used them as subjects as soon as they were adopted in 1987. He was not the first artist to use dachshunds as muses: both Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso were also known to love the breed. As for many people, the dogs were Hockney’s constant companions, offering unconditional love and friendship, which is reflected in the affectionate and often humorous portrayals of Stanley and Boodgie. They became more than his best friends—they became his muses, his confidants and a great source of joy for the artist.

Apart from personal affinity, there is also an artistic element to Hockney's passion for dachshunds, as the dogs’ elongated forms provide an interesting aesthetic contrast to the human figures and environments in his work. Furthermore, the breed’s playful and inquisitive nature brings an element of vitality and warmth to these paintings, helping bring them to life. Hockney's artistic style is distinct and versatile, with a strong sense of colour and form that is marked by his bold palette, simplified details and innovative use of perspective. Nevertheless, many of Hockney’s portraits of his beloved dogs are in monochrome, with a distinct focus on their shape and mood.

Between 1993 and 1995, Hockney painted and sketched hundreds of images of his beloved dogs. In 1995, he staged a show named Dog Days at Yorkshire Salts Mill in Bradford, which featured 45 paintings of Stanley and Boodgie. His dachshunds have come to serve as a symbol of companionship and the everyday pleasures of life, and he often depicts them within his domestic environment, as is the case in Breakfast With Stanley In Malibu and Montcalm Interior with 2 Dogs. He is also capable of demonstrating each dog’s unique personality, as each dog often is shown engrossed in their own interests. These reflections encapsulate Hockney's ability to capture life's simple yet profound pleasures with his dachshunds, painting not just their forms, but the very essence of their being in a way that continues to touch the hearts of viewers around the globe.

“Stanley will follow me everywhere, unless it is raining, or someone is dispensing food. Boodgie is more of a loner. They live very comfortably, occasionally going to the beach, and have only two interests as far as I can see: food and love, in that order.”

Hockney's Dog Days (1998)

One of the most notable collections of Hockney's dachshund-focused artwork is the book David Hockney’s Dog Days, published in 1998, which is entirely devoted to endearing portrayals of Stanley and Boodgie. Containing 84 colour illustrations, these are not just casual sketches: they are thoughtfully executed works that capture the individual personalities and physical characteristics of his beloved pets. Hockney uses his signature style – minimalist in form and maximalist in colour – portraying the dogs in various settings and activities. The works are both playful and poignant, providing a window into the artist’s personal world and the importance of the companionship that these dachshunds have offered him.

The book also sheds light on Hockney's work process. With characteristic humour, in its text the artist gives a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how to work with models that do not necessarily want to sit still. His devotion to painting his dogs daily, often in the same position, showcases his commitment to exploring form, colour and composition. Hockney’s Dog Days is an engaging blend of personal memoir, pet portrait and art study, revealing the depth of Hockney's artistic practice and his deep affection for his canine companions.

“I make no apologies for the apparent subject matter. These two dear little creatures are my friends. They are intelligent, loving, comical and often bored. They watch me work; I notice the warm shapes they make together, their sadness and their delights. And, being Hollywood dogs, they somehow seem to know that a picture is being made.”

A Legacy of Joy: Remembering Hockney's Dachshunds

Hockney's relationship with his dachshunds transcended the ordinary pet-owner bond to become a wellspring of artistic inspiration. Stanley's passing in 2001 at the age of fifteen was a profound loss for Hockney. While less is known about the fate of Boodgie, the absence of any new portraits after a certain period suggests his eventual passing must have been equally heartbreaking for the artist. Yet, despite the inevitable cycle of life and loss, the heartwarming impressions they left on Hockney's art remain.

Hockney's numerous dachshund paintings have a universal appeal, capturing the simple joys of pet ownership and the profound bond between humans and their animals – a theme as timeless as art itself. This, combined with Hockney's unique visual style, has earned these works a special place in the consciousness of contemporary art, embodying universal themes of love, companionship and loss. They provide a glimpse into Hockney's domestic life, his love for his pets and the delight he found in portraying his beloved companions on canvas.

Whether it is the tranquillity of a sleeping dog, the playfulness of a wagging tail or the quiet companionship of a pet patiently waiting, each scene is a study in the peaceful coexistence and affectionate rapport that defined their time together. Hockney's depictions have become a celebrated facet of his work and a testament to his skill in encapsulating the nuances of daily life – in this case, his life with Stanley and Boodgie – and transforming them into art with enduring appeal and significance. Within the confines of his canvas, Hockney  has captured more than mere likeness. Each stroke and each hue speaks of a story, of moments between him and his dachshunds, creating more than visual records: they are emotional landscapes of a shared life. Hockney has captured the essence of this extraordinary bond in strokes of love and colour, inviting us to reflect on our own bonds with the non-human friends who grace our lives.

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