Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Immortal Companion: Carl Friedrich Abel
To begin a series on pooches in paintings, I wanted to open with one of my favourite human-dog portraits. Thomas Gainsborough's portrait of the composer Carl Friedrich Abel depicts the music man as if we have just interrupted him in his study. The busy musician looks up from his work that he has been pouring onto paper before the notes leave his head. His cello (musicians, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!) casually leans against his leg, so he can quickly play the tunes he hears and then go back to recording them on paper. Abel is obviously successful in his musical career. The grandness of his fine chair, the drapery, and even his copper coloured silk vest excrete wealth and success. He is enlightened man because of his connection to music...and nature.
Sleeping calmly at his master's feet is Abel's dog. The faithful companion is the only one allowed in Abel's private study while he works. We can see why, he is a quiet audience. The dog's presence evokes a sense of calm and gives the viewer a sense of comfort about the sitter and his personality. In fact, the dog completes the portrait; it would be unbalanced without him. Gainsborough, a big dog fan, puts a lights source on both Abel's face and the dog's. The rest of his fluffy white body is shadowed under the desk. If you think only a crazy dog-lover would zone in on the pooch in the painting, let me reiterate how much the people of the 18th century loved their dogs. When the painting was exhibited, the St James Chronical reported on "the correctness" of Gainsborough's execution of the dog. Ya know, just in case you were worried that the dog didn't come out right!
If you were wondering about that music Carl was composing in the painting, I put together a sampling of it below. It gave me an excuse to play with the amazon mp3 player! So now you can make like Abel's puppy and relax to the sounds of his strings.