Abby Sunshine

Duck Toller

4-22-10 Boy of Hallett Family with Dog

While perusing fine art, and looking for art with dogs, I found this image in the art collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. Take a look. . . What do you see?

Boy of Hallett Family with Dog,

Boy of Hallett Family with Dog

Unknown Artist

American, 1766/1776

Where shall we begin? Well, what do you see that would suggest this painting was done in the past? What makes you think it is in the 1700s rather than 2010?

I would definitely go with the clothing. I’m imagining the boy to be around the age of my 3rd graders, and I’d be very surprised to see them dressed like this.  For one thing, the collar looks very different than we see now. It looks like lace going around the neckline, being tied in a bow in back. Also the satin vest with buttons underneath a maroon jacket looks different than what I see now. It seems more formal to me, like how I’d imagine things to be back in the 1700s, or at least how they might dress to pose for a painting. Also, the boy is not smiling, or at least not much. I feel like now if I took a photograph, or had a photograph painted, there would be a much broader smile, one that looks like it is fun to be with a dog! I don’t know- what do you think??

OK, moving onto the dog. Tell me about this boy and dog. What is their story? What kind of a dog is it? How old is it? What would Abby Sunshine think of this boy and dog? How is Abby Sunshine like this little dog?

I answered the other question first, now it’s your turn. You tell me!

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3-2-09 Study of a Dog

I couldn’t help but tune into this piece of artwork by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, depicting a retriever looking down and to the left (though its description says it’s looking to the right). I think it looks like a long lost relative of Abby Sunshine. What do you think? It was done at some point in the 1800s, probably in England. I don’t have a lot of information about it. 

What is happening in this picture? I think this dog is looking intently as someone holds something in front of her. What is it? I think it’s a cloth of some sort, like a dust cloth. Why is she so interested? I think it smells like food she likes, maybe it was used to wipe a table after dinner and she smells the beef tips that she had been longing for all through the meal. Why do I think she’s a she?? I don’t know, I guess she reminds me of Abby Sunshine, therefore I say she’s a she. What do you think? Do tell. I like to hear your stories.

Study of a Dog    

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (British, London 1802 – 1873 London)
Bequest of Mary Cushing Fosburgh, 1978 (1979.135.9)
Study of a dog of retriever type looking down and to the right.




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2-6-09 Portrait of James Ward

I love to walk around an art museum and discover the many works of art that include dogs in the imagery. Throughout time, dogs have apparently been a good friend. I guess they have that reputation for a reason.

Let’s take a moment to look at this painting. What is the young boy thinking about? How is he feeling? What is the relationship between the boy and the dog? What do you think the boy and dog will do after posing for this portrait? Where do you think they are posing for this painting? What kind of clothes is this young man wearing? If you were to pose with a pet, what would you wear? What kind of a pet would you choose? Would you smile? 

Portrait of James Ward 


Gilbert Charles Stuart painted Portrait of James Ward in 1799Stuart was a famous painter, known for his numerous paintings of George Washington. This portrait of the engraver and animal-painter James Ward (1769-1859) was painted while Gilbert Stuart , a Rhode Island native, was working in the studio of Benjamin West in London. Stuart first met Ward when he was twelve and an errand boy for the artists and has posed him in mid-17th century dress with a poodle. 
Ward grew up to become a painter himself! Was he inspired by the loving companionship of his fluffy dog? 
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1-23-09 Giacomo Feeding a Dog

Giovanni Battista Piazzetta

Over the past few months, I have watched  children interacting with Abby Sunshine in such a warm and delightful manner. One day I sketched this youngster offering Abby a treat while a friend watches attentively. Doesn’t this image conjure up positive feelings? Wouldn’t you say that the dog is bringing some merriment into the lives of these two figures? What sounds would you hear if you were to enter the scene?

No, again this is my imagination gone wild. I did not create this pleasing picture. This is a chalk and charcoal piece of artwork, done by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, 1738-1739. He was an Italian artist, born in Venice, known for being a rococo painter, though he was also recognized for his charcoal renderings. This was way before my time!

I included it today because I spent the morning with a 9th grade Spanish class in Minnetonka. The students were studying pieces of fine art, and describing them in Spanish. The estudiantes were magnifico! It was an enjoyable experience to be in class with them.

So let’s describe this piece of artwork. What would you say? How does the dog remind you of Abby Sunshine? What makes you think this could be from a time long ago? How are the people feeling in this image?

Tell me more! I mean it! I want to know what you think!

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12-13-08 The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume

I was planning to write about the importance of dental care and brushing your dog’s teeth when I was distracted by this quick snapshot taken of Abby and myself. We were simply lounging around home as we commonly do- I wearing my cozy frock and doing some light reading (while I take a momentary recess from strumming the guitar). And little Abby Sunshine providing companionship, paw raised and tail wagging.

Just kidding, this is actually The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume, painted by Alexander Roslin in 1763. She was “one of the most intellectually astute and glamorous women of Parisian high society in the 1760s.” In fact, she was a strong supporter of the arts and sponsored performances by the one and only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I was unable to find any mention of the perky little canine posing in the lower corner of this piece. I think painters used to just “throw” a dog into the scene to add a bit of life. I don’t know. I was hoping to find out if the little mongrel was important. One would think the dog would have been mentioned if it were nearly as special as Abby Sunshine.

As long as we’re here, let’s think about what Abby and I have in common with the figures in this oil painting.

1.       The comtesse and I both like to read.

2.       Abby and the dog have fluffy tails that curve upward.

3.       I often gaze off into the distance as I ponder important thoughts.

4.       Abby raises her left paw when doing “shake.”

5.       We, too, have sheets of music strewn about our home.

6.       Abby Sunshine sometimes seeks my attention, looking upward.

7.       I, too, sit with good posture when I wear so many beads.

8.       Abby sniffs my clothing.

9.       I also live life in the mindset of a high society Parisian Aristocrat.

10.   Abby and the little dog both live a dream dog’s life.


Now, here’s a stretch- how are we different than what we see in this piece?

1.       This takes place in 1763, we are in 2008; though we seem so similar, 245 years have passed.

2.       Abby’s fur is a different color.

3.       My hair is shorter than hers.

4.       Abby is larger than this little dog, I think.

5.       We have a violin, not a guitar.

6.       In a setting like this, Abby may actually be curled up, napping on the floor.

7.       My white satin shoes have higher heels.

8.       If Abby were seeking my attention, she may have a ball or a toy to offer me.

9.       The comtesse actually is a Parisian Aristocrat.

10.    Abby actually lives a dream dog’s life, running and fetching with friends and family.


We can all interpret artwork in our own personal way. How would you compare and contrast things?

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12-02-08 George Washington

On Friday, I will be leading an American Art Sampler tour at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. In preparing for this tour, I have discovered that George Washington appreciated sport dogs! 

Portrait of George Washington (1732–1799)In fact, in this famous painting, Portrait of George Washington (1732–1799) by Thomas Sully, there is a small paperweight shaped like a dog. It is on the table, in front of the inkwell; you may need to enlarge this image to see it. It is thought that he had this paperweight because of his love of dogs and the outdoors. In fact, in the book George Washington’s Breakfast, by Jean Fritz and Paul Galdone, it says that Washington once had 10 hunting dogs named Tipsey, Pompey, Harry, Maiden, Lady, Dutchess, Drunkard, Tru-Love, Mopsy an Pilot! I have also read that Washington bred hunting dogs. From illustrations and paintings, it appears that he participated in the sport of fox hunting. In these pictures, there was a large group of dogs,running and smelling, and he was on a horse behind them. This was a traditional sport for the time, so it makes sense.

What would George Washington think about Abby Sunshine? I think he’d love her!! However, her breed, the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever did not even officially exist at the time of George Washington. The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (Toller) was developed in the early 19th century. Washington died in 1799, so he most likely didn’t know about them . . . but who knows, he liked dogs and was certainly interested in many things, maybe he was familiar with a new breed developing. Maybe he knew that a new breed was emerging; there would soon be a smart, sport dog breed from the North!

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