Reading List: National Pet Day

Painting of a large white dog lounging on the floor next to a bed, titled "The Portrait Dog"
“The Portrait Dog,” a chapter heading from Tamsin Pickeral’s The Dog: 5000 Years of the Dog in Art

On National Pet Day, celebrated each year on April 11, the Frick Art Reference Library is highlighting items from our collections that showcase domestic animals in art. Below, discover books on cats and dogs, as well as a selection of images from the Photoarchive featuring unexpected animals that were once commonplace as pets.

All the books in our collections can be viewed in our reading room with a free appointment. Explore all our digitized Photoarchive materials online through the Frick Digital Collections. Plus, enjoy this collection of images from the Archives showing Helen Clay Frick—founder of the Frick Art Reference Library and an avid dog lover—the Frick family, and their furry friends.

Seated woman in a large hat with white feathers holding a cocker spaniel
Helen Clay Frick and Fudgie, 1910, photo by Henry Havelock Pierce, The Frick Collection/Frick Art Reference Library Archives

Recommended Reads

Two book covers on a white shelf, one featuring a painting of a dog and the other a sculpture of a cat
  1. The Dog: 5000 Years of the Dog in Art

    By Tamsin Pickeral (2008)

    Paw your way through this extensive volume on the depiction of the dog in art, from African rock paintings (6,000–1,500 BCE) to the present day. This book explores themes of canines in a number of contexts, among them religion, mythology, the domestic sphere, and the hunt. Beautiful reproductions of works of art in many media help illustrate the story of the dog in societies around the world.

  1. Caticons: 4,000 Years of Art Imitating Cats

    By Sandy Lerner (2017)

    The pages of this book will have you purring for more. The image of the domestic cat is examined in the fine and decorative arts as well as in collectibles, books, fashion, and entertainment. The author pulls examples from all time periods, organized chronologically and by themes such as famous cat lovers, tiny cats, and cats just being cats.

    Book cover on a white shelf featuring a painting of two young girls in blue-and-white dresses with a large black-and-white dog at their feet
  1. Impressionist Cats & Dogs: Pets in the Painting of Modern Life

    By James H. Rubin (2003)

    The animals in this book are not fighting like cats and dogs. Rather, the nineteenth-century paintings featured in the publication depict loyal pets accompanying their owners during a time when domestic animals signaled middle-class prosperity. The author discusses modernist artists of the era who portrayed their own pets and the pets of their circles of friends, including Gustave Courbet, Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

To explore more books on pets from the library’s collections, see Dogs in art, Cats in art, and Animals in art in our online catalog.

Selections from the Digital Collections

All the images shown below are reproductions of artworks from the Frick Art Reference Library’s Photoarchive and are available online via the Frick Digital Collections.
Portrait of a baby in a large dress with a white and red feather on its head and holding a squirrel on a leash
Portrait of a woman in a Renaissance dress holding a weasel
Pieter van Lint (1609–1690), A Baby with a Gold Chain and a Pet Squirrel, n.d.
School of Titian (ca. 1488–1576), A Young Woman with a Pet Weasel on Her Left Hand, ca. 1559
Drawing of a woman leaning against a pillar with a small owl perched on it
Frances Parthenope, Lady Verney (1819–1890), Florence Nightingale with Her Pet Owl, Athena, ca. 1850

The documentation in the Photoarchive can provide some rich reading material, such as the anecdote copied on the back of the archival mount of the image above:

“The passion Miss Nightingale cherished for creatures was of an unusual kind. […] Of all her pets the one she loved most was a little owl she bought in Athens in 1850 [at the Parthenon, whom she christened Athena]. Athena arrived in England in Miss Nightingale’s pocket and settled down at Embley Park, the Nightingales’ country house in Hampshire, where her iron will and her sense of humour made her a well-known character… It was customary for Miss Nightingale’s learned friends to compliment Athena by addressing her in Greek.

“Athena lived at Embley for more than three years and then, alas, met a tragic end. […] When her small body was put into Miss Nightingale’s hands, she […] burst into tears. ‘Poor little beastie,’ she said, ‘it was odd how much I loved you.’ Eighteen months passed and the world was ringing with Miss Nightingale’s name. [While recovering from Crimean fever at Scutari] she received a book written by her sister Parthenope to amuse her during her convalescence. The book was called ‘The Life and Death of Athena, an Owlet from the Parthenon.’”

—From Cecil Woodham-Smith, “Florence Nightingale’s Pet Owl,” in The Saturday Book, vol. 9, 1949, pp. 171–174

Painting of three children in a landscape with a large goat with very long horns
Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797), Three Children of Richard Arkwright with a Goat, 1791, private collection, on long-term loan to the Tate, London
Daniel Gardner (1750–1805), Master Charles Pennington (Child with Pet Deer), n.d.

Book photos by Joseph Coscia Jr., The Frick Collection

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