T02379 Muff, a Black and White Dog ?c.1740–50
Oil on canvas 1250×1015 (49 5/8×40)
Inscribed ‘J. Wootton’ at the base of a stone pillar on the left and, as if carved across the middle of its column, ‘MUFF’
Presented by Mr Paul Mellon KBE through the British Sporting Art Trust 1979
PROVENANCE ?The 2nd Duchess of Portland (d.1785); ...; Mrs W. Duncan, sold Sotheby's 28 November 1962 (86) bt Oscar and Peter Johnson, from whom bt by Paul Mellon 1963
LITERATURE Egerton 1978, pp.25–6, no.27
This is evidently a pet dog of considerable charm but mixed breeding (?spaniel-pointer cross) and indeterminate sex. An old inscription on the back read (before relining) ‘From the Collection of the Duchess of Portland’. That Margaret Cavendish, 2nd Duchess of Portland, should have asked Wootton to paint a pet dog is perfectly credible, particularly as her father, the 2nd Earl of Oxford, had been one of Wootton's earliest and most faithful patrons; but no painting of a dog called Muff is recorded in any of the catalogues of pictures at Welbeck Abbey, nor in the sales of the contents of the Duchess of Portland's Museum in 1786. A portrait by Wootton entitled ‘Minx, a little Spaniel Bitch’ is listed in a MS catalogue of paintings at Welbeck in 1747, and it is conceivable that ‘Muff’ was misread or mistranscribed as ‘Minx’: last recorded at Welbeck in 1861, that picture must subsequently have left the collection. Two paintings of dogs by Wootton remain in the Duke of Portland's collection: ‘The Countess of Oxford's Spaniel Casey’, described in the 1747 catalogue as a portrait of the bitch Casey lying on a cushion, with a picture on the wall of Mina and Die, two other dogs; and ‘Two Dogs, Gill and Die, and a Dead Hare’ (R.W. Goulding & C.K. Adams, Catalogue of the Pictures belonging to His Grace the Duke of Portland, 1936, p.x, and nos. 485 and 487).
One of Wootton's odder classical buildings in the background on the right offers no clue to the identification of the setting of the dog's portrait; John Harris (in correspondence) describes it as a pedimented loggia in antis, an improbable construction possibly based on a design by Marot or Le Pôtre.
Though chiefly known as a painter of horses, Wootton evidently received many commissions for portraits of dogs. Horace Walpole announced to Horace Mann on 25 April 1754 that his favourite dog Patapan ‘sits to Wootton tomorrow for his picture’; Walpole hung Patapan's portrait in his bedchamber (Walpole's Correspondence, XVIII, 1954, pp.220–1). An inventory of pictures belonging to the Dukes of Hamilton, taken in 1759 after the death of the 6th Duke, lists three paintings of dogs by Wootton: ‘A dog ... called Jewell’, ‘A Dog called Scipio’ and ‘A Water Dog ... called Trea’ (Hamilton MSS, 13, pp.33 and 35).
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988