New York City’s most famous dog club is the country’s most prestigious, the Westminster Kennel Club, and the Big Apple becomes Dog City U.S.A. every February when the club’s singular dog show opens at Madison Square Garden—and this year, at Piers 92/94 as well.
As the country’s dog-world elite arrive in New York City, including show judges from 18 different states, exhibitors from all 50 states and dog-loving visitors from everywhere, the city literally goes to the dogs. The Empire State Building will be illuminated in purple and gold, Westminster’s signature colors; Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg officially welcomes the dogs; all of the New York morning shows and newspapers cover the results; a howlingly fun beauty extravaganza, the NYC Doggies & Tiaras Pageant, takes the runway at the New Yorker Hotel; the “Oscars” of the dog show world—the Show Dog “Winkie” Awards Ceremony—are hosted at the Grand Hyatt; and Sardi’s, the city’s landmark eatery in the Theater District, fires up a filet mignon luncheon to the Best in Show winner on Wednesday.
Uptown goes to the dogs, too, especially at the William Secord Gallery, the only art gallery in North America to specialize in 19th-century dog paintings. The owner of the gallery, William Secord, also founded the AKC’s own gallery in 1982, The Dog Museum of America, currently in St. Louis. Secord opened his own gallery in 1990 in the very location it remains today: 52 East 76th Street. It’s open to visitors 12 months a year, and all interested art and dog lovers can board one of Manhattan’s tiniest elevators or simply take the stairs to the third floor.
Each year the William Secord Gallery opens a major exhibition on the weekend prior to Westminster, so on Feb. 9, 2013, “The Sarah Evans Collection” can be viewed by the public for the first time. A long-time client of the gallery, Sarah Evans is a well-known name in the purebred dog world, and after her recent death at age 55, Secord contacted Sarah’s mother.
“We decided that an exhibition of Sarah’s collection would be a nice way to honor her memory. She loved Field Spaniels but she also loved collecting.” Her love of this lesser-known Sporting breed is evident in the paintings and sculptures she amassed over decades. In fact, according to Secord, “Field Spaniels in 19th- and early 20th-century paintings are actually quite rare, but Sarah really sought them out. Many of the depictions of spaniels in 19th-century paintings resemble our modern-day breeds, but early spaniels were bred for function, not the show bench.” Her pre-eminent Wood Duck Kennels bred many champions over the years; the most famous being Field Spaniel Ch. Evan’s Rumor Has It, who won Best of Breed at Westminster in 2008 and 2009.
The Sarah Evans Collection features over 100 works of art —oil paintings, drawings on paper, bronzes, porcelains, and antique jewelry—from England, France, and Austria, all of which are on display and for sale at the gallery. Prices of individual works of art range from $150 (for a figurine) to five figures (for certain oil paintings).
Secord believes that visitors to the gallery will be most transfixed by “the three-dimensional pieces, especially the small Austrian bronzes, which are especially attractive. Our gallery is known more for paintings, so these bronzes are something new for us.” Among the artists represented are Cecil Aldin, Reuben Ward Binks, Maud Earl, Howard Hill, Edwin Frederick Holt, Marguerite Kirmse, Charles Olivier de Penne, George Vernon Stokes and Arthur Wardle.
The most famous portrait for sale is Wardle’s oil sketch of Ch. Shillington Rona, one of the Field Spaniels depicted in Wardle’s famous group portrait “Field Spaniels of the Twentieth Century.” Secord’s favorite painting in the collection is Wardle’s especially beautiful painting of two spaniels, which he was familiar with from the collection of Mrs. Walter Jeffords, who purchased it from the Geraldine R. Dodge collection.
Sporting dogs were a favorite subject of 19th-century painters, and the Sarah Evans Collection includes many beautiful examples, representing not just the Field Spaniel and Cocker Spaniel but also the Pointer, Gordon Setter, Irish Setter, Irish Red and White Setter, English Springer Spaniel and Clumber Spaniel.
The Hounds are represented by many lovely works depicting the Foxhound, Otterhound and Greyhound. Pillow dogs were also favorites of portrait artists, and the collection features Toy dogs like the Pekingese, Pug, Italian Greyhound and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Bulldog and Boxer lovers may find a couple interesting works as well. And for Scottish Terrier lovers, there are 80 etchings by famous dog painter Margeurite Kirmse, herself a Scottie breeder from Connecticut who died in 1954.
Visit the William Secord Gallery in person on East 76th Street on the Upper East Side or online at its website, Dogpainting.com, which includes images of every work of art in the current exhibition as well as its complete inventory of 19th- and 20th-century art. Students can also find excellent historical information about breeds and famous artists written by Mr. Secord, who is the author of six elaborate books on dog paintings, including his award-winning The American Dog at Home: The Dog Portraits of Christine Merrill, the country’s most successful living dog portraitist who is represented exclusively by Mr. Secord.