Famous Artists’ Pets and Animal Inspirations

If you’ve ever shared your home with a pet you will know the enchantment and amusement an animal can bring to your life. Throughout history and across civilisations, animals have been represented in art – for their beauty, to tell stories, or to worship the powers they were believed to hold. The bond and fascination between humans and animals is both timeless and universal, and caring for a pet also offers therapeutic benefits that improve quality of life. It’s therefore not surprising that animals are frequent features in many artists’ studios, offering unconditional companionship as well as artistic inspiration. Here are some famous artists in the company of the animals they loved and admired and some of the art they inspired.

Salvador DaliDali with ocelot

Salvador Dali and his pet ocelot ‘Babou’     Source: Wikimedia Commons Photograph by Roger Higgins, World Telegram staff photographer

Famous for his bizarre and highly imaginative paintings, Spanish Surrealist artist, Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989) was also well known for his eccentricity and attention-seeking behaviours that are well illustrated by his choice of animal companion.

Dali with anteater

Salvador Dali walking a giant anteater in Paris, 1969   Source: via Pinterest

Although the giant anteater he was seen taking for a walk in Paris was probably not his pet, Dali had a particular affinity for giant anteaters. His affection for these enigmatic creatures is believed to originate from a poem written by his friend and founder of the Surrealist movement, André Breton, entitled “Apres le grand tamanoir” that translates to “After the giant anteater”. In 1930, Dali created a bookplate for Breton which he named “Andre Breton le tamanoir” giving rise to a nickname that was to remain with Breton until after his death in 1966.

Dali anteater sketch

Salvador Dali ‘The Anteater’ sketch (c 1930) via onlineanteater.blogspot.com

Frida Kahlo

Kahlo with deer

Frida Kahlo and her pet deer, ‘Granizo’      Source: tumblr.com

Trailblazing Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907 – 1954) and her artist husband Diego Rivera (1886 – 1957) kept a menagerie of animals including monkeys, xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless) dogs and exotic birds.

Kahlo with dogs

Frida Kahlo with her Xoloitzcuintli (Mexican Hairless) dogs    Source: anothermag.com

Well known for her self-portraits, Frida once said “I paint myself because I’m so often alone and I am the subject I know best”. Perhaps this is why she so often painted herself surrounded by her animal companions.

Kahlo with monkey

Frida Kahlo and pet monkey     Source: anothermag.com

Kahlo painting with monkey

Frida Kahlo, ‘Self Portrait with Monkeys, Bird of Paradise Flower’ (1943)    Source:  anothermag.com

Kahlo with parrot

Frida Kahlo at Casa Azul, Mexico City, 1951 with one of her pet parrots    Source: anothermag.com

Kahlo with parrots painting

Frida Kahlo, ‘My Parrots and I’ (c 1941)    Source:  anothermag.com

Paul Klee

Paul Klee photo

Paul Klee, his wife Lily, and their cat ‘Bimbo’     Source: buzzfeed.com

Swiss-German artist Paul Klee’s (1879 – 1940) highly individual style was influenced by movements including Expressionism, Cubism and Surrealism. His dry humour and childlike perspective were frequently reflected in his paintings, along with his love of cats.

Paul Klee Cat & Bird painting

Paul Klee, Cat and Bird (1928)     Source: moma.org

Pablo Picasso

Picasso with owl

Picasso with his pet owl     Source: pinterest

Legendary Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso (1881 – 1973) is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. Time Magazine art critic Robert Hughes once commented “There was scarcely a 20th century (artistic) movement that he didn’t inspire, contribute to, or in the case of Cubism…co-invent”. Prolific in output throughout his long life, Picasso drew inspiration form many sources including the owl, a symbol of wisdom and an effective predator.

Picasso Chouette painting

Picasso ‘Chouette dans un interieur’ (1946)     Source: indefenseofart.com

Andy Warhol

Warhol with dog

Andy Warhol and his dachshund, ‘Archie’     Source: daschundlove.blogspot.com

American 20th Century art world phenomenon, Andy Warhol (1928 – 1987) was a leading figure in the Pop Art movement that flourished in the 60’s. While his work primarily drew inspiration from, and made comment on, commercial and celebrity culture, by the 70’s his beloved pet daschund, Archie was also the subject of his art and an inseparable companion.

Warhol dog painting

Andy Warhol ‘Portrait of Archie’ silk screen painting (1976)      Source: daschundlove.blogspot.com

Lucian Freud

Freud in 1947

Lucian Freud holding a sparrowhawk in his studio (1947)     Source: tumblr.com

Renowned for his psychologically penetrating portrait and figure paintings rendered with thick impasto, Lucian Michael Freud OM CH (1922 – 2011) is widely considered one of the leading British artists of his time.  Animals were frequently featured in Freud’s compositions, often alongside their owners.  It is unclear if Freud kept a sparrowhawk as a pet but it is clear that he had a particular affinity with them that spanned at least fifty years.

Freud Sparrowhawk painting

Lucian Freud ‘The Sparrowhawk’ (1947)    Source: wikiart.org

Freud elderly with sparrowhawk

Lucian Freud with a sparrowhawk in London taken in the last ten years of his life     Source:  telegraph.co.uk Photo by David Dawson 

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