According to documentary evidence this closely observed dog is a bitch from an ancient Aragonese breed. She is lying on the ground with her eyes closed and muzzle placed next to her front paws. She is dozing rather than in a deep sleep and may still wake easily. The artist has carefully captured the different textures and the distinctive markings of her coat. Short brushstrokes are used to render the fine hair on the floppy ears and face, contrasting with the broader, longer brushstrokes to evoke the coarse hair on her body.
As court painter, Francisco Bayeu’s interest in this dog was connected with a royal project to source dogs from the ancient Aragonese breed for reviving the stock of the pack of King Charles III of Spain in 1788. Bayeu contacted his friend Martín Zapater in Zaragoza for help procuring ‘some bitches and a dog’. The dog depicted here was described by Zapater in a letter to Bayeu as a bitch from Graus: ‘dark grey in colour with different, quite large dark chestnuts markings, the grey snout and the rest of the head, with the same chestnut markings, with fine hair, whilst the overall mix of the coat is coarse: her stature is quite small and only in this regard, in my opinion, does she resemble the other bitches my servant delivered for his Majesty’. Zapater also sourced another dog from Navarre. Bayeu paid for the transport and he painted this picture either during a visit to Zaragoza in September 1788 or in his studio in Madrid.
No further details about the fate of the dog are known. It may be that she was never used for the royal breeding project, possibly because of the lack of an established pedigree. The project resonates with longstanding social obsessions concerning the notion of blood purity in Spain, which discriminated against those with Jewish and Muslim ancestry. Proving one’s pure white lineage was the basis for aristocratic status in Spain and it often found visual expression in the design of coats of arms and genealogical trees.
The portrayal of a dog as the main motif in a painting is rare in Spanish art. A comparable example is the depiction of two hunting dogs in a design for a decorative tapestry in 1775 by Bayeu’s brother-in-law, Francisco Goya (Dogs on a Leash, Museo del Prado). The Dog from Graus is Bayeu’s only known painting of an individual dog. He must have been fond of it, as he copied the motif a year later, inserting it into the foreground of the Saint Peter and the Cripple (1789–90) in Toledo Cathedral. A similar dog of the same breed, but with different markings, appears in his earlier fresco of the Imprisonment of Saint Eulogius in the lower cloister of the same building.
Francisco Bayeu was an eminent court painter who specialised in religious and historical scenes. Even though The Dog from Graus was not representative of Bayeu’s themes, it was highly valued by collectors. On the artist’s death in 1795, it was sold to Leonardo Chopinot, the royal jeweller of King Charles IV. The latter’s heirs eventually sold it to Manuel de Godoy, who served as Prime Minister to Charles IV (1792–1808) and was one of Spain’s most important collectors of art of all time.
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La Perra de Graus.
Francisco Bayeu y Subías (Zaragoza, 1734 – Madrid, 1795).
Medium and Support
Oil on canvas.
43.2 x 72 cm.
Marks and Inscriptions
Signed lower left ‘Franco Bayeu’.
Acquired by The Zurbarán Trust, 2016.
Recorded in the inventory of goods belonging to Francisco Bayeu drawn up on his death in 1795; acquired in 1795 from the artist’s heirs by Leonard Chopinot, jeweller to King Charles IV of Spain; sold by his widow Angela Sulpice Chopinot by 1805 to Manuel Francisco Domingo de Godoy y Álvarez de Faria de los Ríos y Sánchez-Zarzoza (also known as Príncipe de la Paz y de Basano, Duke of la Alcúdia y de Succa, and Prime Minister of Spain, 1792–97 and 1801–08), on whose behalf selected by the court painter Jacinto Gómez; Enrique Luis Carlos Jesús Landecho y de la Quadra-Salcedo, 4th Marqués de Monterrico (1886–1971); by descent to Enrique Landecho Vaillant; sold to a private Spanish collector in 1988; with Sotheby’s by 2016.
The Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland.
Miguel Lasso de la Vega y López de Tejada, ‘Goya en Madrid: su familia y allegados (1746–1856)’, in Miscelánea madrileña, histórica y artística, I: Goya en Madrid: su familia y allegados (1746–1856) (Madrid: Maestre, 1952), p. 74;
José Luis Morales y Marín, Francisco Bayeu: vida y obra (Zaragoza: Moncayo, 1955), pp. 111–12;
Xavier de Salas, ‘Inventario de las pinturas elegidas para el Príncipe de la Paz entre las dejadas por la viuda de Chopinot’, Arte Español, 36 (1968–69): 29–33 (p. 31);
J. M. Arnáiz, ‘Obras inéditas de Bayeu: olvidadas en el Patrimonio Nacional y Museo del Prado’, Antiquaria, 79 (1990): 44–49 (pp. 48–49);
Arturo Ansón Navarro, ed., Francisco Bayeu y sus discípulos (Zaragoza: Cajalón, 2007), pp. 240–41;
James Macdonald & Edward Payne, ed., The Auckland Project at Sotheby’s: Paintings from The Spanish Gallery (New York: Sotheby’s, 2018), pp. 98–101.