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Barlow is the earliest known British-born animal painter. He began a tradition that reached a high point in the work of George Stubbs a century later. During Barlow’s lifetime animal paintings were still largely associated with decorative arts and the interior design of houses. This painting, like many animal pictures, was probably produced to hang over a door. The spaniels shown here may be portraits of particular dogs, so the painting may have been commissioned by their owner. Wealthy families often kept exotic pets as well, and the African monkeys may highlight the patron’s cultivated affluence.

February 2016