Home Art & Photography Dogs Playing Poker: Meaning Behind the Paintings – 2024 Guide

Dogs Playing Poker: Meaning Behind the Paintings – 2024 Guide

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Despite having virtually nothing in common with one another, dogs and poker aren’t an uncommon combination. Kitschy photos like a St. Bernard hoarding chips from a Pomeranian or a faded painting of a slew of Jack Russel terriers all sat around a poker table can be found in a variety of places, from a friend’s house to a hotel lobby to a photo-sharing site like Flickr.

Despite how common these images are today, they’re a relatively new entry into the American psyche. In 1894, eccentric American artist Cassius ‘Cash’ Coolidge created the first rendition of Poker Game.

The painting became so popular that Coolidge was commissioned by a cigar company to create ten more paintings that involved dogs at poker tables. The series as a whole is known as Dogs Playing Poker.

The trope became popular and helped to invent a specifically American kitsch art. In 2005, Coolidge’s original painting was sold for $590,400 in New York’s annual Dogs in Art Auction. Ten years later, in 2015, the painting resold at the same auction for $658,000.

But what makes the idea of dogs playing poker so popular for Americans? The game itself is only now beginning to enjoy a resurgence through legalized forms of online gaming. Prior to the upstart of World Series of Poker, the game was largely an underground endeavor associated with the Wild West days of yore.

For the Love of Dog

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America loves dogs. With more than 75 million, the country is home to the world’s largest population of canines. For every thousand people, 225 own a dog. It’s clear we feel comfortable spending time with our beloved pets: we dress them, we leave them messages when we head out of town, and foot big bills at the vet.

Dogs can be actors, like Air Buddy the Labrador from the Air Bud franchise. Then there’s Rin Tin Tin, rescued from the fields of World War I and transformed into as silent movie superstar. Other dogs assist police investigations and even more provide some form of security.

They fly on planes. They skateboard and swim and bring in the newspaper. Dogs end up in a lot of positions normally held by humans. Why not add a bit of gaming?  Though dogs playing poker in artistic renditions focus on the hazy, back room of a private poker parlor, a modern iteration would likely look a bit different.

Today, big names in the industry like PokerStars, offer Android and TV options for players to get involved in the action, which means mastiffs and Labradors would be clustered around smartphones and remotes rather than playing tables. And rather than a painting, it’s more likely to be a high-def photo with a crew of lighting experts and dog trainers.

Anthropomorphizing Fido

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Mentioned above, the average American dog finds itself in a lot of interesting positions, whether that’s ten thousand feet up in the air on a flight or far out at sea on a cruise liner. But we like to do more than keep a dog at our side.

We dress them up and stage weddings between chihuahuas and Great Danes. We have them tote expensive rings down the aisle to the bride and groom. Why not portray dogs participating in one of man’s oldest hobbies, gaming?

When studying Coolidge’s original painting, Playing Poker, art historians and ethnographers of US culture tend to focus on anthropomorphizing the dogs. In other words, Coolidge projected human tendency onto the canines.

In some ways, it’s ingenious and endearing. Dogs, beloved as they are, can’t deal cards, hold them, or even read them. Poker is one of the more cerebral games played in casinos, which makes the idea of a dog playing a perfect hand even more comical.

In other ways, it’s a commentary on what we do as humans. Coolidge’s original painting includes a large clock that reads 1:00 am, multiple cigars and drinks, and a series of stern poker faces. It’s a cute and harmless mirror that we can hold up to ourselves and re-imagine what we might look like doing the same.

Things that One Must know About This Painting

1. It is not just a painting but is a series

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The aim of creating dog paintings by Coolidge was to get the cigar boxes. An artist worked for an advertising company, who created the series of the previous work. Some of his famous works are Poker Sympathy, A Bold Bluff, etc. The company served his work as giveaways to their customers in the form of calendars, prints, posters, etc.

2. Two Dogs are Cheating in the Painting

Focus on the two bulldogs that are cheating while playing poker. One dog is providing a helpful card to his friend. Here, the artist is showing a simple message that a friend always helps in need. This painting is depicting a profound message through dogs.

3. The Painting was Sold at a Huge Price

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In 1998, the painting was sold to Sotheby at $74,000. In 2005, the auction took place, where Big works like Waterloo and A Bold Bluff were also present. At that moment, it was noted that any rare painting would be sold in a range of $30,000 to $50,000. But later, this particular workpiece was sold in $590,400 to an anonymous bidder. It was a significant record for this artwork.

4. Not Every Dog Painting by Coolidge Shows Poker Dog Players

If we calculate the total number of paintings created by Coolidge, then it was 16. But there were only nine paintings in which the dogs were playing poker. In the rest of his pieces, they are indulged in different activities, like football, dancing, dinner, etc. He created a series but not considering poker in every piece.

5. The City Philadelphia in New York Has Given an Honor to This Artwork

Source: philamuseum.org

Many people are aware that he was born and raised in the Philadelphia city of New York. The residents of the city were unaware of his paintings and fame. His daughter, Gertrude Marcella Coolidge, visited the city at the age of 80 and told the entire story to everyone. She shared a print, which is now framed and kept at the museum of a library. Anyone who is exploring the city can check out the picture and some belongings of the artist.

6. Coolidge’s Daughter and Wife Do Not Like the Painting Much

In an interview, Coolidge’s daughter told the press that she and her mother did not like the painting because they were fond of cats than dogs. She also expressed his father’s thoughts and admitted that cats would not look much good as dogs. Therefore, she liked the picture in such a way.

The Bottom Line

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The painting “Dogs Playing Poker” is not just a painting but also a story. It was too hard to find the reasons why Coolidge developed such artwork. No one can imagine some dogs sitting around a round table and playing poker with so much interest and dedication. Going through exciting facts about the painting will help you to know more about this authentic piece.