The Dogs of St. Bernard
George Baxter's last published print 'Dog's of St Bernard'
The Dogs of St. Bernard (CL 335) was one of the largest prints Baxter produced. It was published in 1859 and was the last print he published before his retirement, as confirmed in his own advertising poster for his sale in Bristol in 1861.
The print is after Sir Edwin Landseer, R.A. who painted the original in 1820 when he was only 18 years of age, not 21 as stated by Courtney Lewis (CL) in his 1924 book ‘The Picture Printer’. Below we give background to the artist, the subject matter, look at the TWO versions of the painting and the other engravings of the subject before looking at Baxter’s version in colour. Also for the first time I will give full details of the woodcut Baxter published of the subject in 1833.
Sir Edwin Henry Landseer R.A. was born in 1802 and is well known for his paintings of animals – particularly horses, dogs, and stags. However, his best known works are the lion sculptures at the base of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square in London. He was the son of the engraver John Landseer A.R.A. He was a prodigy and first exhibited at the Royal Academy at the age of just 13. He was elected an Associate at the age of 24, and an Academician five years later in 1831. He was knighted in 1850, and although elected to be president of the Royal Academy in 1866 he declined the invitation.
Queen Victoria commissioned numerous paintings from the artist. Initially being asked to paint various royal pets, he then moved on to portraits of ghillies and gamekeepers. Then, in the year before her marriage, the queen commissioned a portrait of herself, as a present for Prince Albert. He taught both Victoria and Albert to etch, and made portraits of Victoria's children as babies, usually in the company of a dog. He also made two portraits of Victoria and Albert dressed for costume balls, at which he was a guest himself. He died in 1873.
Information credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_Landseer
The Subject Matter
The Great Saint Bernard Pass runs for 49 miles across the Alps between Italy and Switzerland. It was named after Saint Bernard de Menthon who founded a hospice and a monastery there around the year 1050. The pass is snowbound for many months of the year. The servant guides and their dogs were credited with saving over 2,000 lives between 1750 and 1897.
The dogs that worked from the St Bernard’s Hospice were specially bred for their capabilities in the rough terrain and their great sense of smell. Once they had caught a scent they could dig a hole ten foot deep into the snow to rescue someone.
The painting shows the dog with a barrel around its neck and according to John Landseer’s 1831 book (see ‘engravings of the paintings’ below) is said to contain brandy, this must be incorrect. Edwin is credited as the source of this well-known urban myth but should this in fact be his father John? Possibly the dogs did have barrels around their necks but they wouldn’t have contained brandy which wouldn’t have been suitable for rescuing snow bound travellers. Although initially it would make you feel warmer by dilating the blood vessels and bringing the blood to the surface it would also divert the much needed blood away from the vital organs with possible devastating effects.
The most well-known dog was called ‘Barry der Menschenretter’ Barry the people rescuer or just Barry for short and over his 14 year career is credited with saving 40 lives. For many years these dogs were known as Barryhunds and were not called St Bernards, as we know them today until around 1865.
As of 2004, The Great St. Bernard hospice maintained an 18-dog roster for “tradition and sentiment”. A tunnel though the mountain was opened in 1964 alleviating most of the traffic across the pass.
Information credit: https://beerconnoisseur.com/articles/myth-st-bernards-and-barrels
Landseer titled the painting “Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Traveller”. It is oil on canvas and is a very large 74 ½ x 93 3/8 in. (189 x 237 cm.) It is signed and on the reverse is inscribed “painted in 1820'.
Jesse Watts Russell is stated as “to have been ‘Bought from the artist’, a manuscript annotation adding ‘cost 160 gs’.”
Jesse Watts Russell; his sale - Christie's, London, 3 July 1875, lot 29.
Richard Peacock; his sale - Christie's, London, 4 May 1889, lot 65, and 26 March 1892, lot 118.
Col. Ralph Peacock; his sale, Knight, Frank and Rutley, London, 31 October 1928.
Wildenstein & Co., New York.
Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge; her sale - Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 5 December 1975, lot 54.
Anonymous sale; (but quoted in various contemporary sources as being the sale of Jonathan ‘Jack’ Warner and the Gulf States Paper Corporation, Tuscaloosa, Alabama after their purchase above in Dec 1975) Sotheby's, New York, 4 June 1993, lot 61 ($525,000)
Christie’s, London, 7 December 2017 for £608,750
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC via The Matthiesen Gallery
London, British Institution, 1820, no. 277.
Birmingham, Society of Artists, 1842, no. 250.
Manchester, Catalogue of the Art Treasures of the United Kingdom, 1857, no. 391.
Philadelphia, Museum of Art; and London, Tate Gallery, Sir Edwin Landseer, 25 October 1981-23 January 1982, no. 13.
A book was published in 1858 “Photographs of the Gems of the Art Treasures Exhibition Manchester 1857” by Signori Caldesi and Montecchi. The photograph of this painting states “Alpine Mastiffs” by E Landseer RA in the collection of J Watts Rufsell (sic) Esq confirming his ownership at the time of the 1857 exhibition.
Algernon Graves in his ‘Catalogue of the works of the late Sir Edwin Landseer’, undated but quoted widely as being published in 1876, says the original picture “was sold at his sale July 3 1875 Lot 29 for £2,257 10s to Messrs Agnew“- presumably the well-known London art dealers.
Franklin Kelly, chief curator of the National Gallery of Art in Washington discusses their new acquisition - Landseer's Alpine Mastiffs reanimating a distressed traveller' - courtesy of The National Gallery of Art's Facebook page
The SECOND Painting
On 4th December 1996 Christie’s New York sold “ St Bernard Dogs” oil on canvas 18 x 24in (45.7 x 61cm which, according to the Christie’s sale listing for the larger painting on 7th December 2017, this smaller version is considered to be a finished preparatory study.
Christie’s 1996 sale referred to Algernon Graves’ catalogue which mentions the smaller finished picture. They went on to say that this version has differences to the larger version “The smaller version does not have the ‘St B’ on the red blanket nor the bells and detailed collar that appear in the larger painting. However the large version does not have the cork on the end of the barrel and the tree limbs in the background are slightly different. The tail of the standing dog is longer and not as white in the larger painting”…. “therefore it seems logical that our painting pre-dates the larger one” but gave no theory as to why they thought this.
This appears to be the 3rd time Christie’s have sold the painting, previous sales are noted by Christie’s as:
Joseph Gillott; sale, Christie's, London, April 26, 1872, lot 223 (1,740 gns.) purchased by ….
S. Addington; sale, Christie's, London, May 22, 1886, lot 83 (440 gns. to Agnew)
Christie’s, New York, December 4, 1996 Lot 68 realised $167,500
Graves states that the purchaser in 1872 was Addington. Agnew, the buyer in 1886, may have been Messrs Agnew who purchased the larger painting in the 1875 sale?
Engravings of the Paintings
John Landseer (Edwin’s Father) published an engraving of this subject dated June 3rd 1831. This engraving differs to the large painting we know and presume it must be based on the smaller version. Unfortunately it appears there is no image available of this smaller painting but we can compare to Christie’s noted differences.
Credit: Two St. Bernard dogs with an avalanche victim, one tries to revive him while the other alerts the rescue party. Line engraving by J. Landseer, 1831, after E. Landseer. Credit: Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
As expected there is no ‘St B’ on the blanket, there are differences to the tree limbs and there is a cork on the end of the barrel. Christie’s states “no bells or detailed collar that appear in the larger painting”. We feel this was a mistake on their part as in the engraving there are bells and detail but they are noticeably different to the larger painting, the two bells are opposite each other, top and bottom of the collar on the engraving (and presumably the smaller painting) as against both bells hanging under the collar in the larger painting. The detailing on the collar is also slightly different. Presuming that this is taken from the second smaller painting that Christie’s sold it is strange they didn’t also mention that the main figure to the mid foreground on the right is looking over his shoulder in the larger version but looking straight ahead in the engraving and hence presumably the smaller painting. Also what appears to be a wooden cross is in the rock above the dogs head.
To accompany the print John Landseer wrote a 47 page booklet describing the background to his son’s painting. You will note that the title page, illustrated, of the 1831 book confirms the painting is in the collection of Jesse Watts Russell which is somewhat strange as, as we have said, John Landseer’s engraving is of the smaller version. Surely Russell couldn’t have owned both copies in 1831? As Russell states he purchased directly from Edwin I feel that John felt he had to credit him even though his engraving wasn’t exactly the version that he had copied.
Interesting to note his print is titled “Alpine Mastiffs” and the accompanying book giving the fuller title “Alpine Mastiffs extricating an overwhelmed traveller from the snow”. Perhaps Edwin Landseer gave this second painting a slightly different title?
Title page to John Landseer's 1831 book to accompany his engraving
When reviewing John’s new engraving The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal Part III, published in 1831, states that they had seen a part finished impression by Edwin’s brother, Thomas Landseer about 3 years earlier and wondered whether this plate had been completed by and credited to the father, John or is there, in their opinion, a ‘superior plate’ by Thomas still in existence?
We then find another engraving of the same, smaller version of the painting which is now clearly marked “Engraved by Thos Landseer.” From looking at scans of the engravings they do appear to be from the same plate but you would need to study the actual prints to be certain. Perhaps Thomas ‘rescued’ what he considered to be his plate and then gave himself the full credit. This time the title appears as “Alpine Guardians. The Discovery and Rescue” and states after the painting by Sir Edwin Landseer therefore dating this engraving to after 1850 when Edwin was knighted. John died in Oct 1852 so possibly that is when Thomas might have ‘regained control’ of the plate. I have no reason to think there was any animosity between father and son but the situation over credit on his plate does seem strange. Thomas was a well regarded engraver in his own right and helped Edwin with his art lessons for Queen Victoria and Albert.
Algernon Graves notes, in his catalogue that William Greatbach published a version of the small painting in 1874. https://www.davidhancockondogs.com/archives/archive_494_585/510A.html refers to the Greatbach engraving but gives a date of 1881. If the image from this respected research source is correct then Greatbach’s engraving is actually of the larger painting.
Graves also notes a lithograph by Fitzwygram. We can also find an engraving by Tucker “Alpine Mastiffs”, yet again based on the smaller painting used as an illustration to The Religious Souvenir edited by G T Bedell and published in Philadelphia in 1833. The book credits John Landseer’s print and quotes extensively from his booklet but the engraving is a lot smaller, the overall size of the book is 3 7/8” x 6 1/8”.
The Baxter Print
The 1860 Southgate and Barrett Sale Catalogue of Baxter plant and stock states it to be the "only facsimile which has ever been attempted, no opportunity ever having been afforded for the purpose of copying direct from the great original. This privilege was granted to Mr. Baxter especially by the proprietor, who has expressed himself as delighted with the extreme faithfulness of the copy. It has lately been published and received by the public with great enthusiasm." CL states in the Picture Printer that the painting “was lent by him (E Landseer) to Baxter so that he might make his drawings” but we can see from the ownership of the painting that it was owned by Jesse Watts Russell from at least 1831 until 1875.
Baxter’s early adverts confirm this stating the painting “formed the chief attraction of the Art-Treasures exhibition at Manchester.” This was a major exhibition that took place in 1857, when Russell owned the painting, and remains the largest art exhibition to be held in the UK,
Baxter's advertisement in the Art Journal Advertiser for February 1860
possibly in the world, with over 16,000 works… most of the works were borrowed from 700 private collections – https://en.wikipedia.org/ The 1860 catalogue obviously now means Russell is the proprietor referred to.
In his initial adverts Baxter called his print "The Dogs of St. Bernard rescuing an overwhelmed traveller from the snow.” This seems to reference John Landseer’s 1831 book rather than Edwin Landseer’s actual title for the painting and also his own 1833 wood cut which please see below. Perhaps Baxter decided this title was too long as later advertisements seem to major on just the ‘Dogs of St Bernard’. His hard to find copies on stamped mounts show this shorter title followed by “after a painting by Sir Edwin Landseer RA”
CL states in the Picture Printer that “the print, notwithstanding, is not a perfectly faithful copy of the original.” - this appears to be incorrect and the only assumption I can make is that CL most probably wouldn’t have had access to the original large painting and would have compared it to John Landseer’s or a similar engraving without realising that they was based, unknown to him, on the smaller painting.
CL also states “that the motive, possibly underlying the publication in 1859, was that it would be topical, as the Franco-Sardinian-Austrian War was then raging”. I can’t understand why CL thought this as, at the same time, he quoted from Baxter’s early adverts that the painting was” the chief attraction at the Art treasures exhibition in Manchester”, a widely publicised exhibition.
Although generally very well received not everyone was complimentary about Baxter’s new print, a review in the Art Journal for January 1860 states “The inferiority of oil printing to chromo lithography appears to lie in the absence of transparency and a consequently heaviness of colour” and goes on to say how poorly the image is constructed, which is strange as they then go onto say “painful as it is this reproduction will find many admirers, for, independent as its excellence as a copy….” So they appear to be saying that they didn’t like the layout of Landseer’s painting?
The Athenaeum for 3rd March 1860 confirmed that this is the first time it had been copied but the writer was obviously not a great fan of Baxter’s work in general, stating “the reproduction is totally devoid of that peculiar chalky purple tint which has hitherto disfigured so many of Mr Baxter’s publications.”
Size of Print - 44.3 cm x 60.5 cm
Stated by CL as being Published in 1860 most probably based on a number of adverts in 1859 and early 1860 (these being possible re-runs of early adverts) stating “soon to be published” but we have found one advert in ‘The Morning Chronicle’ dated 28th November 1859 stating “This day is published”, so actually published 1859.
The Morning Chronicle November 28th 1859 where Baxter advertises 'This day is published..."
Baxter’s versions are stated to be found in various states:
On Stamped Mount
As proofs – which appear to be on a plain mount which Baxter has actually signed.
These signed mounts can be found only on this print and The Parting Look another large print.
Originally advertised in Dec 1859 at “£1. 1s. 0d. Proofs £5. 5s. 0d” and in his 1864 republication list as “(proof impressions with Patentee's signature), extra large margin, £2. 2s. 0d. each.”
Baxter's 'Dogs of St Bernard's' a proof impression with patentee's signature'
Later reprints from Baxter’s Plate
William Dickes, a Licensee of Baxter purchased the plate and blocks from Baxter in 1860 or very soon after. We have had the opportunity to study a Baxter process print signed by Dickes. It appears to be from the Baxter plate, perhaps with some changes in the colour blocks. It is signed in red ‘William Dickes London’. The colour implies that the signature has either been applied to the print or added via the red colour block rather than engraved into the steel plate, otherwise the original key plate design would have to be in red rather than the grey / blue as seen in the print. There is another train of thought that states that Dickes applied his red signature to genuine Baxter copies which were of course unsigned.
An article in the Bazaar and Exchange and Mart dated 7th August 1934 confirmed that Dickes had purchased the Baxter plate and “printed from it from transfers from the steel plate to Litho stone” The article also states that one of Dickes apprentices Mr J T Hambling states in letter (no date being mentioned) that Dickes bought the plate at Baxter’s auction of 1860 but a highly detailed copy of the auction catalogue that has been referenced by many books over the years states the plate of Dogs of St Bernard was ‘passed’ i.e. not sold which was strange as this was Baxter’s last production and only published six months earlier. As such it should have been highly sought after? The auction catalogue actually states that “Orders have been repeatedly refused while the catalogue of this sale has been in preparation. The demand for this picture must be lasting, and many thousands will be sold”
The Exchange and Mart article stated that the plate was in fact withdrawn, either way it appears Dickes must have purchased the plate, just before the sale by making Baxter an offer he couldn’t refuse, hence it being withdrawn or soon after that sale direct from Baxter.
Dickes is well known for using different printing processes and we can also find a chromolithograph of the same subject at the British Museum which, according to their dimensions is very slightly smaller and signed similarly but this time at an angle. The title is then “Dogs of St Bernard rescuing a traveller after a painting by Sir Edwin Landseer”. They also describe another version they hold, although not illustrated, and this time it states the title as on the previous version but with the additional text “Issued simultaneously with Bow Bells. Price Sixpence at the Option of the Purchaser / William Dickes, Chromo., Farringdon Road, E.C".”
Docker, the biographer of Dickes lists only two chromolithographic versions, which he describes as being a Chromograph, Dickes own process. It is stated that the Bow Bells version is an inferior print which makes sense if it is being sold via the magazine at such a price.
The New Baxter Society newsletter Vol 8 No 5 for November 2006 reviews the Baxter print by Dickes but also quotes an interesting advert by The Baxter Art Union (no connection to George Baxter) who was advertising a print of this subject in the Penny Illustrated Magazine for 7th April 1877. The advert stated “Sir Edwin lent this picture to the late George Baxter for him to make a steel plate engraving of it; The copyright of the original picture was secured by the late George Baxter, and from him passed, with the steel plate he prepared, to us.”
The Baxter Art Union can be found advertising in ‘The Academy’ of 1877 to “PURCHASE the STEEL and other PLATES of Copyright and Non-copyright Fine Art Pictures”. Their advert seems to confirm that in 1877 they had purchased Baxter’s steel plate, as used by Dickes, and printed what they called a ‘Superior Aquagraph’. Although we now know their statement about Landseer lending the painting to Baxter to be untrue they seem to use this to try and substantiate their claim to the copyright. At that time copyright law stood at 7 years after death or 42 years after first publication and breach of copyright meant you could forfeit all copies of the work. So in theory Baxter still had copyright to his work but sale of his plates must, logically, have included copyright to produce from it?
Just recently a new piece of information has been found that appears to contradict the information above. In the New Baxter Society newsletter Vol 13 No 2 November 2020 reviewing a newly discovered auction catalogue that was “selling a portion of the Letterpress and Litho Machinery” plus plates and stones etc of William Dickes on December 3rd 1878. One lot is quoted as “one very fine Steel plate and Nine Copper Plates St Bernard Dog (large) after Landseer. So a year after Baxter Art Union claims to own the plate it is again back in Dickes possession for a final time? Of course there could be two steel plates but that will be incredibly unlikely as we known Dickes mainly reproduced his versions from stone so he would have had no reason to engrave a second version on steel
Sir James Yoxall’s undated book “The ABC about Collecting” published circa 1908 talks about a collectors experiences buying Baxter’s plates from Le Blond. No name is mentioned but it is obviously Frederick Mockler. Yoxall states that ‘Mockler’ said “I found some of the plates were missing and I traced that the plate of the Dogs of St Bernard had been sold and taken to America”
The ‘undiscovered’ early Baxter woodcut
The title page to The Saturday Magazine for May 11th 1833 and below a close up signed, under the woodcut, 'Baxter Sc'
CL states in The Picture Printer “It should be noted that Baxter, very early in his career (about 1833), published a woodcut of the picture, which is an illustration to some book of that time.”
I can now confirm that the Baxter signed woodcut appeared on the front page of the ‘Saturday Magazine’ for May 11th 1833.
It is one of Baxter’s largest woodcuts I have seen at 5” x 3.75”. It is clearly recognisable as his later full colour print but on closer examination there are differences and it becomes evident, now knowing the information above, that this is actually a copy of Landseer smaller painting exhibiting all the differences to the larger painting noted by Christie’s and expanding on by my research i.e. No ‘St B’ on the blanket on the dogs back, bells at top
and bottom of collar rather than both underneath, differences to the detailing on the collar, the man to the right mid foreground looking forward as against over his shoulder, a wooden cross is in the rock above the dogs head but showing a cork in the barrel which isn’t in the other larger painting. The tree limbs and the dog’s tail also differ.
Under the woodcut on the left hand side is ‘Baxter Sc’.
The article, confirms what we now know and opens “By the kind permission of Mr Landseer we are enabled this week to present a woodcut taken from his very interesting PRINT of the “Alpine Mastiffs” or Dogs of St Bernard” The inclusion of the word print obviously confirms that the Mr Landseer they refer to is John and not the painter son Edwin.
Above the wood cut is “The Dogs of St Bernard” the first time this title appears to have been used and obviously Baxter’s inspiration for the title of his 1859 production. In the bound six monthly volume ‘Baxter Lewes’, obviously his father’s office, is listed as one of the wholesalers of the publication.
The Baxter Society Quarterly Journal Vol IV No II dated July 1924 details a visit by prominent collector J H Rylatts to view a private collection, he lists many rare prints including an amazing three copies of the very rare Butterflies and mentions “And interesting item, new to me, was a miniature woodcut measuring 5” wide by 3 3/4” high, of the Dogs of St Bernard”, which describes the Saturday Magazine wood cut exactly, but, he states, underneath is “Engraved on wood by G Baxter 29, King Sq, Goswell Road, London” and on the left “Baxter Sculpt” not Sc as on this wood cut. Sc or Sculpt both meaning ‘engraved by’. The Goswell Road address dates this piece from between 1828/9 to 1835 so it appears, as Rylatt gave such a detailed description, that Baxter took other impressions of this work that we have still yet to find.
The fact that there are two paintings of the subject is new information to the Baxter collecting field, and possibly a lot wider. This explains a lot, if it wasn’t for a brief mention in Algernon’s Graves catalogue we wouldn’t have known there was a second smaller painting and if that painting hadn’t been sold at Christie’s in December 1996 or they hadn’t listed the basic differences we might have thought that most subsequent engravers of this work had used poetic licence to make slight alterations to Landseer’s painting.
The artist has most probably added much confusion to our understanding of this print by painting the two versions, the first larger version is well documented and confirmed to be in the ownership of Jesse Watts Russell between at least 1831 and 1876 and it is from this painting that Baxter prepared drawings for his larger colour print ‘The Dogs of St Bernard’ and appears, unlike as CL states, to be an exact copy.
The Southgate and Barrett auction catalogue of Baxter plates and plant in 1860 which must have been written in conjunction with Baxter himself states “only facsimile which has ever been attempted” now appears to be true as, at that time, he was the only person to copy the large version.
Landseer’s second smaller version with the differences mentioned doesn’t have as a good a recorded provenance but the majority of prints of this subject, including Baxter’s woodcut, seem to be of that painting and I feel are actually taken from John Landseer’s well documented engraving of 1831.