In-depth Discussion: Edwin Landseer

Edwin Landseer. The Hon. E.S. Russell and His Brother, 1834. Oil on canvas. 34 3/4 x 44 1/8 in. Kenwood House, English Heritage; Iveagh Bequest (88028791). Photo courtesy American Federation of Arts.

Edwin Landseer (1802–1873) was a popular portrait painter—of animals! This piece, The Hon. E. S. Russell and His Brother (1834), incorporates Landseer’s strengths as a pet portrait painter.

Lord Iveagh loved portraits of children, even when they were not his own. The Russells, whose sons are pictured here, had unexpectedly inherited a barony (an English title), and it is thought that this portrait of the young sons commemorates that moment. In the painting, Landseer shows the boys in playful sport against each other—which may foreshadow the fact that only one of them would eventually be able to be baron. (Sadly, the younger brother passed away at age twelve, a few years after this painting was made, and so such a struggle was never necessary.)

The Milwaukee Art Museum’s Portrait of a Terrier, The Property of Owen Williams, ESQ., M.P. (Jocko with a Hedgehog) (1828) is a portrait—here of just a dog, albeit quite a noble one—that is worth a visit and comparison. Notice how Landseer paints the fur—as realistically as possible, glossy and healthy, showing the animals at their prime.

Discussion Questions

  • Think about your own family portraits. What kinds of “action shots” do we show nowadays in our family photos?
  • Would you (or do you) have portraits of family pets? Why do you think pets are such an important part of family histories?

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