Today marks the first anniversary of the death of celebrated British painter Lucian Freud. Much like Picasso before him, Freud’s principal interests centred on women and dogs; he owned a number of dogs over the years including his gangly pet whippet Pluto, a particular favourite. Freud acquired Pluto in 1988, making an etching of her as a pup that same year and continuing to charter her development through his work until her demise in 2003. Pluto (complete with lolling tongue) was also the star of Freud's design for daughter Bella Freud's fashion label.
"Freud acquired Pluto in 1988, making an etching of her as a pup that same year and continuing to charter her development through his work..."
A breed of sighthound, whippets were originally developed as hunting dogs, used to course game in open areas at high speeds. Many representations of small greyhound-like dogs exist in art dating back to Roman times, but the word "whippet" was not documented in the English language until 1610. The breed was first popularised in the 1860s, in the Midlands and the North, where whippet racing took off as a major sport in mining areas. To this day whippets regularly compete in lure coursing and racing, as well as in dog shows. They are among the fastest canines, boasting the ability to run 200 yards in under 12 seconds. They are known to be of a playful, gentle nature and, despite their energy and agility outdoors, like to spend the majority of their day sleeping and lazing about inside (their short coats provide scarce protection from the elements). Whippets come in a wide variety of colours and marking patterns – from solid black to solid white, with red, fawn, brindle, blue, or cream – while Freud's treasured companion was tan with dark-outlined patches.
As previously suggested, Freud drew much inspiration from dogs, frequently including them in his art. In 2002, he expanded upon their appeal to William Feaver, curator of his retrospective of that year, saying, “I am impressed by their lack of arrogance, their ready eagerness, their animal pragmatism”. They even impacted his portrayal of humans: “I’m really interested in people as animals…Part of my liking to work from them naked is for that reason…I like people to look as natural and as physically at ease as animals, as Pluto my whippet.” Freud first included a dog in his work in the renowned 1951 painting Girl with a White Dog, a striking image which depicts his first wife Kitty Garman accompanied by a white bull terrier – one of a pair given to the couple as a wedding present. Poignantly, the artist's final painting similarly features a dog: Eli the whippet, a Christmas gift from Freud to his assistant and close friend David Dawson (depicted alongside Eli in the work), and the great, great-niece of the beloved Pluto. Eli was said to have filled the gap left by Pluto in Freud's final years.
Text by Daisy Woodward