Famous Artists and the Pets Who Inspired Their Success

Andy Warhol by Jack Mitchell. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

From Henri Matisse’s two cats, Minouche and Coussi, to more unique pets like Salvador Dalí’s ocelot, furry companions of all kinds have spurred the creativity of notable visual artists. Below is a list of some of the most prominent artist-pet relationships, and how each contributed to their body of work.

Andy Warhol

Pop artist Andy Warhol grew up with a love of cats and dogs. In the 1970s, Warhol’s boyfriend suggested they get a dachshund, and the two acquired a small dog they named “Archie.” Warhol and Archie soon became inseparable, and he even accompanied the artist on interviews. Warhol would deflect questions to his dog if he didn’t want to answer.

Filmmaker Vincent Fremont, one of Warhol’s friends recalled, “Andy took Archie to his studio, to art openings, and Ballato’s Restaurant on Houston Street… Archie was always on Andy’s lap, eating bits of food that he was handed [and] was always carefully hidden under Andy’s napkin just in case a restaurant health inspector would happen to come by.”

The couple later adopted another dachshund named Amos. In 1976, Warhol unveiled an entire series of cat and dog paintings and drawings, including some of Archie and Amos.

Edvard Munch

Norwegian painter Edvard Munch was known for his intense paintings depicting psychological states, many of which reflected his own anxiety and depression. Perhaps his most famous is his 1893 painting, The Scream.

His dogs, many of whom were terriers, brought him joy. He even took them to the movies with him, leaving if one barked. They accompanied him while painting, and inspired some of his works including his 1930 painting, Head of Dog.

Emily Carr

Emily Carr was a Canadian artist and writer, credited as one of the first painters in Canada to adopt a modernist and Post-Impressionist style. Her paintings were inspired by that of the Indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest Coast in the United States, prompted by a trip to Alaska with her sister.

Carr was fascinated by animals, which was detailed in many of her writings. She had parrots, chipmunks, a raccoon, white rats, cats, dogs, and a monkey named Woo. In her 1946 biography, Growing Pains, she writes, “My sister owned a beautiful mare which she permitted me to ride. On the mare, astride as I had ridden in the Cariboo, my sheep-dog following, I went into the woods. No woman had ever ridden cross-saddle before in Victoria! Victoria was shocked! My family sighed. Carrs had always conformed…. Too bad, instead of England gentling me into an English Miss with nice ways I was more me than ever, just pure me.”

In another of her biographical works, Emily Carr and Her Dogs: Flirt, Punk and Loo, Carr compiles 25 fun-loving stories about her dogs alongside 16 illustrations. In it, she discusses raising Old English sheepdogs, harping on the affectionate and loyal nature of her dogs.

Ernest Hemingway

American novelist and short story writer Ernest Hemingway is famous for classics like The Old Man and the Sea and The Sun Also Rises, but Hemingway is also remembered for his love of polydactyls, his six-toed cats. After a ship’s captain gifted Hemingway with his first cat, named Snowball, Hemingway was hooked. He owned 23 cats by 1945.

Hemingway named his cats after famous people, and let them roam freely about his house. He fed them generously from cases of salmon and even offered them a mixture of whiskey and milk. His love of cats inspired his creative writing, evident in his 1925 short story titled “Cats in the Rain,” which is said to be inspired by a true story of his wife encountering a stray cat on vacation.

Frida Kahlo

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo had a tumultuous life, riddled with a toxic relationship with fellow artist Diego Rivera, depression, and a horrible accident that left her unable to bear children. To cope, she channeled much of her energy into painting and her numerous pets. Of her 143 paintings, 55 of them are self-portraits featuring her animals.

Kahlo’s pets all lived with her at her house, Casa Azul, in Coyoacán. There, she had spider monkeys named Fulang Chang and Caimito de Guayabal. Her 1943 painting, Self Portrait with Monkeys, showcases the comfort she derived from these creatures.

She also had an Amazon parrot named Bonito, a fawn named Granizo, an eagle named Gertrudis Caca Blanca, various parakeets, macaws, hens, a sparrow, and Xoloitzcuintle, which are Mexican hairless dogs. The Xoloitzcuintli breed can be traced back to the Aztecs, and Kahlo was particularly drawn to these animals for their connection to her Mesoamerican heritage. Arguably her favorite pet, Mr. Xolotl, is depicted in Kahlo’s 1949 painting, The Love Embrace of the Universe.

Georgia O’Keeffe

American artist Georgia O’Keeffe is best known for her large canvases depicting details of flowers and landscapes of the American Southwest, but she was also particularly passionate about her Chows. After moving to New Mexico, she fell in love with the breed, and got her first dog in 1952. Chows are considered a loyal, protective, and independent breed, which O’Keeffe responded to.

O’Keeffe owned six chows over the course of her lifetime, sketching them, snapping photographs of them, and writing about them to friends and family. She was even a member of The Chow Chow Club, Inc.

Henri Matisse

French painter Henri Matisse led the Fauvist movement with his bold use of color and simplification of form. Much like his friend and fellow artist Pablo Picasso, Matisse was a lover of cats. He was particularly attached to his cats Minouche and Coussi, as well as his black cat named la Puce (the Flea). He even fed them pieces of brioche in the mornings. Though not necessarily the subject of his works, Matisse was inspired by the constant companionship of his pets. While he continued to paint in his old age, he often worked from bed with his cats by his side.

Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell was an American painter and illustrator, known for his works depicting idealized American culture which included subject matter that depicted scenes from the Civil Rights Movement, America’s war on poverty, and the exploration of space. One of his most famous works, Rosie the Riveter, represented women factory workers in American during World War II, and was widely circulated on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1943.

Rockwell was also an avid dog enthusiast, and often depicted them in his paintings as he felt they were a central part of the American experience. This is evident in his 1926 painting, Boy and Girl Gazing at Moon (Puppy Love). He had many dogs of his own, preferring mutts over purebreds. One of them, Pitter, would accompany Rockwell at his studio while he painted.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was not only an eccentric, celebrated Spanish painter, but also an avid animal-lover and had various dogs of all different breeds throughout his life. His most famous furry companion was Lump, a dachshund who he took everywhere. Picasso’s relationship with Lump was even detailed in a book written by the dog’s original owner, David Douglas Duncan.

Lump was immortalized in many of Picasso’s works. Picasso recreated Las Meninas, a 1656 painting by Spanish Golden Age painter, Diego Velázquez. In the adaptation, Picasso painted abstract renderings of Lump in place of the regal hound seen in Velázquez’s original.

Salvador Dalí

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí was known for his quirky and eccentric personality, donning his signature mustache and producing strikingly bizarre images. It comes as no surprised that the artist had two ocelots as pets. Ocelots, also known as dwarf leopards, are wildcats native to Central and South America.

Babou and Bouba were reportedly gifted to Dalí by the Colombian Head of State. They accompanied him everywhere, even to restaurants where diners were frightening by the exotic animals.

Animals have long since been the subject of artists’ work. Paintings, sculptures, books, and other media depict subjects and stories inspired by animals of all kinds. Some, like that of Frida Kahlo, are more autobiographical, while others are mere abstract renderings of furry creatures. Much like the creatives above, the love, companionship, and beauty of a pet has the ability to inspire creativity in all forms.

Sources: Architectural Digest | BBC | Bluethumb | Nina Davidowitz Fine Art