Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dogs Playing Poker: A Friend in Need

For any of my readers who think that I am all about the Good and the True with nothing to say about the Beautiful, let me remind you that I have previously posted on great Art. In fact, my post on "You Been Farming Long?" gets a steady stream of visitors from around the country. Given the interest in this form of folk art, I thought I would provide a post on Cassius Marcellus "Cash" Coolidge (1844-1934) of Antwerp, New York, in upstate. He is the fellow who struck upon the novel idea of painting dogs who are playing cards, the most famous of whose works is "A Friend in Need." He shows dogs of several breeds around a card table playing five card stud. By the early hours of the morning, the two dogs in the foreground have almost all the chips, but the viewer of the painting can see that they have accomplished this by cheating. The cigar smoking bulldog is passing an ace to his friend by his toes.

This is funny because dogs do not have opposable thumbs and so they cannot hold the cards. Nor can they count. You see? Genius. Of course, this is also true of cats, but cats are not funny. Dogs are funny because they are comically ugly. You might say that cows are comically ugly and do not have opposable thumbs (as Gary Larson once astutely observed). Could he have used cows? No. Cows all look the same, whereas dogs come in all shapes and sizes, just as we do, so we can see ourselves in the dogs and laugh without the pain of looking at ourselves too directly.

If you would like to know more about Coolidge, who was a very interesting fellow from an interesting time, see The Dogs Playing Poker website also tells us:

Coolidge first began his career as a professional artist by creating artwork for local cigar companies that used his paintings for "lithographed box covers or inner box lids." ...His break, however, came in 1903 when he signed a contract with the advertising company Brown & Bigelow located in St. Paul, Minnesota. Brown & Bigelow was an advertising company that specialized in "remembrance advertising." This type of advertising consists of a business distributing objects branded with a company name and logo to its loyal customers. ...He eventually painted a total of sixteen different paintings of dogs in various situations for Brown & Bigelow.
If you are feeling a bit snobbish toward this masterpiece, you might be interested to know that two of his other works from 1903, "A Bold Bluff" and "Waterloo: Two," sold for $590,400 at Doyle New York's annual Dogs in Art Auction in 2005 (, February 16, 2005).

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