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Posts Tagged ‘Sir Walter Scott’

This is a painting of what are supposed to be Sir Walter Scott’s dogs.  The painting is by George Armfield and was said to have been painted at Abbottsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home, in 1852. The black dog at the center is said to be Maida, Scott’s favorite deerhound.

On closer inspection, one clearly sees that this is a painting of some gundogs and a small terrier-type dog.

The lemon and white dogs with feathering are either undocked spaniels or setters. These red and white or lemon and white spaniels were occasionally undocked in Armfield’s day, and they were the most common land spaniels in the British Isles during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. The Clumber and the Welsh springer are likely descendants of these dogs. (Some authorities call these dogs Blenheim spaniels, but I avoid doing so in order to avoid confusion with a the red and white coloration in the two English toy spaniel breeds.)

However, there were also heavily built setters that were found throughout Great Britain during this same time period.  Whatever they are, they are of interest to anyone curious about the history of gun dogs.

In the background, two pointers are evident. These two dogs have shorter hair. One is black and white, and the other is liver and white. Both of these were relatively common colors in pointers.

However, the dog in the foreground is clearly not Maida. We have a very good idea of what she looked like. She was a cross between what we would today call a Great Pyrenees and a “deerhound,” which could mean any sort of large sight hound that was used to pursue game. Judging from the various depictions of Maida, the deerhound ancestor was probably a smooth sight hound of some sort, perhaps what was known as a “deer greyhound.” If the deerhound had been rough-coated, as all Scottish deerhounds of today are, she would have inherited this feature. She is more robust than any sight hound and she has an evident partial ruff, both of which she likely inherited from her Pyrenean sire. Cross-breeding mastiff-type dogs with large sight hounds was a common practice for producing a great “deer dog.” Many deer greyhound lines had a touch of this ancestry.

The dog in this painting obviously is not a large sight hound at all.

It is a retriever. The dog looks like it could be an early wavy-coated retriever or a St. John’s water dog (“Labrador”) with long hair. There never was a clear division between the two dogs, so either answer would be correct. It’s a retriever, not a sight hound, and it cannot be Maida.

I do not know if these dogs are actually the ones belonging to Sir Walter Scott. I have read no record of him owning any kind of retriever, although he did have a Newfoundland as a young man.

Of course, there is one other rather large reason to doubt that these dogs belong to Sir Walter Scott. The painting dates to 1854. Scott died in 1832.

So who knows whose dogs they actually were!

Still, it is a very good depiction of an either an early wavy-coated retriever or a long-haired St. John’s water dog.

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