Our latest photo shoot brings together warm Autumnal colours, an unusual muse, and inspiration from the paintings of the late 19th century American artist Cassius Coolidge.
Cassius Coolidge is known best for his Dogs Playing Poker painting that emerged in 1894, and is actually a series of 16 paintings rather than just one, although most people don't realise this. The paintings show dogs being personified into gangster characters, sitting in darkened rooms playing high-stakes poker, doing corrupt deals with policemen or playing pool.
Originally made for cigar boxes, most art critics tend to sneer at his contribution to the art world, but I find both his talent and his perspective fascinating. Coolidge was already well-known, as the father of the comic foreground - those fair ground attractions where you stick your head into a hole to replace the head of the figure in the painting, no seaside resort is complete without one. But Dog's Playing Poker brought Coolidge a new kind of fame in later on in life when he was in his 60's.
At the time the paintings were seen as kitschy rather than high art, but as a brand with our roots in Germany (the land of kitsch) I was drawn to this aspect. It was their kitsch appeal that saw the paintings have a kind of revival in the 1970s suddenly making their way onto calendars, mugs, t'shirts, prints, etc. Given that the 70s era is now having a renaissance of it's own across fashion, interior design and in film (-take a bow Wes Anderson) it is fitting that the paintings are popular once more. Some of the latest sales of the paintings are in the $500,000 ball park - not too shabby for art dismissed as 'kitsch.'
The paintings are satirical depictions of the upper classes; the world of Gentleman's clubs, under the table dealing and pug-faced politicians smarming-up to cigar-smoking fat cats. Sound familiar? Not a whole lot has changed.
So whilst these paintings caught my eye, I began to wonder if the tufted chairs, dark 19th century interiors and canine appeal, would make for a compelling photo shoot. Of course a lot of the political subtext is missing, but the kitsch is still there as is the enduring appeal of dogs with human-like characteristics.
Enter Vivi. Vivi the dalmatian was scouted outside our local supermarket and her sleek coat and impeccable manners made her the canine muse of dreams. We invited Vivi and her owner to our shoot and armed with plenty of treats, began having her pause in various attitudes whilst perched on the end of a Lynda Sparshatt chair.
The set follows the colour palette of Coolidge's paintings, dark rich colours, a haze of cigar smoke and vintage furniture including a horse painting that we later replaced with an image of Vivi herself, a picture within a picture and perhaps a nod to Coolidge's depiction of the egotism of his subjects.
In the spirit of our motto 'Surround yourself with art and live beautifully,' I always want to find ways to present our chairs that are interesting and engaging. I am bored of static interior photography and modern minimalism. So although some may wonder why I haven't simply dressed a set and put the chair infront of the camera, I would prefer the image to be memorable, draw on the genius of other creatives and to make a statement about what Lynda Sparshatt represents, rather than just a pretty chair to fill a corner in your living room.
Photos by Brown Leather Book