The love of poker has permeated through various cultural boundaries and into different forms of expression, all unified under the popularity of the card game. Poker’s mark in popular culture cannot be denied with many movies based on or around it like Casino Royale and Rounders.
The famous painting that many know as ‘Dogs Playing Poker’ is not only a single artwork but 18 oil paintings by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge or C.M. Coolidge, created between 1894 – 1910. The paintings mainly consist of 4-7 anthropomorphic dogs that are engaged in various activities. Although they are collectively known as ‘Dogs Playing Poker’ only 7 out of the 18 paintings depict them playing poker.
The first was a single artwork titled ‘Poker Game’ and was created in 1894, a time when companies started heavily advertising and art needed to be catchy or head turning to attract customers. The painting sold for USD 658,000 at a 2015 auction. In 1903 he was commissioned by Brown & Bigelow to paint the now famous 16 artworks to advertise their cigars. Besides the paintings, art historians have also credited him with inventing “comic foregrounds,” which were painted boards with a cut-out hole for a head.
‘A Friend in Need’ (featured above) is one of Coolidge’s most recognizable painting in the series. It is the one that is most often misnamed ‘Dogs Playing Poker’. It became popular for its depiction of cheating in the game with one of the bulldogs slipping a helpful card to his friend. Among the lot, ‘A Bold Bluff’ and ‘A Waterloo’ are a two-picture story and were auctioned as a pair for USD 590,400.
The creation of the iconic paintings collectively dubbed as ‘Dogs Playing Poker’ was over 100 years back, but it continues to be one of the most recognized pieces in pop-culture. It has made its way into a plethora of movies and TV series and has also garnered parodies of itself in popular media even though art critiques have continued to have a very low opinion of the paintings categorizing as kitsch, which is basically art that is ugly. This, however has not diminished the impact that the painting has had in pop-culture, telling us that art in all its forms can be appreciated.
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