A Fondness for Small Companions
Even before Victoria became queen, she loved dogs. The first, Dash, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, was a gift from Sir John Conroy to Victoria’s mother, the Duchess of Kent.
When she was thirteen, Victoria received Dash as a present. Because Victoria was not allowed to have many human child friends, for reasons of health and safety, Dash became her constant companion. He was a faithful dog, once jumping into the water to follow Victoria on a small yacht tour. A year later, during a holiday to St. Leonards-on-Sea, her carriage horses got caught in their traces, and Victoria scrambled out of the landau with Dash in her arms. And left her mother and attendants to follow while the horses struggled.
Rumor has it that only hours after her coronation, Victoria rushed home to Buckingham Palace to give Dash his usual bath. Dash passed a few years later in 1840, and is buried at Adelaide Cottage in Windsor Home Park. A marble effigy over the grave bears the inscription:
Here lies DASH
The favourite spaniel of Her Majesty Queen Victoria
In his 10th year
His attachment was without selfishness
His playfulness was without malice
His fidelity without deceit
If you would be beloved and die
Profit by the example of
The palace became a menagerie of lovely canines during Victoria’s reign, including:
- Dandie and Islay – Skye Terriers. Islay died after losing a fight with a cat.
- Eos – Prince Albert’s dog which he brought from Germany. Eos almost perished on a shoot when the Queen’s Uncle Ferdinand shot him in the lung by accident.
- Noble and Sharp – Collies. Noble was the Queen’s favorite collie. Noble’s statue, created by Princess Louise can still be viewed in Osborne House.
- Nero – Greyhound
- Marco – Pomeranian
- Hector – Deerhound
Even as she died, one of Queen Victoria’s beloved Poms, Turi, rested with Victoria on her deathbed.
Companions for the Middle Class
As the middle classes rose from poverty in Victorian England, more people moved into cities and away from farms to work in the emerging industrial era. Sanitation codes were enforced and livestock were taken out of the streets and put out to pasture, so to speak.
However, many families emulated their Queen and began to take in “polite” dogs as pets. Canines became treasured as much as the children. The wealthy paid to have their prized pooches groomed and dressed to impress. Crafty thieves noticed the trend and became dog nappers. In 1837, over 140 of these criminals were said to be stealing dogs in London alone.
Stray dogs also became an issue. Those who couldn’t afford their pets abandoned them. By 1869, over 12,400 strays were on the streets and taken to what became the famous Battersea Dogs Home.
Today, steampunk folk attire their dogs as finely as they dress themselves. At outdoor festivals, it’s not unusual to see furry companions in their fantastic outfits. Pinterest and Instagram are loaded with costumed pooches, Victorian canine photos, and steampunk dog photos and art.
Check out our gallery of steam-pups for some examples art and costumes for dogs.
Goodbye to the Dog Museum
I’ve always loved animals. After a stray beagle, Lolly, “rescued” me from a bad bout of anxiety and depression in my late teens, I started drawing them. Queen Victoria and I had more than a name in common. My Lolly became my beloved muse for many years.
This led to a passion to get my pieces into the American Kennel Club’s National Museum of the Dog, which, luckily, was located in my hometown of St. Louis. For over twenty-five years, the museum held an annual competition, “the Art Show at the Dog Show.” The museum honored winners by permanently installing their pieces in the museum’s collection.
For years, it was my holy grail of dog art. As ownership changed hands, from the American Kennel Club to the St. Louis County Parks System and then back to the AKC, the Museum of the Dog evolved into a space where one could view historical dog sculptures and paintings. Some of the Chinese dog sculptures are hundreds of years old.
History of the Museum
New management allowed for live artist appearances, book signings, and openings. Different breed clubs have held shows, picnics, and a variety of events in its walls. I have been fortunate to have participated in several of these opportunities.
In 1982, the New York Life building housed the original museum. The AKC dropped its affiliation in 1985, the museum moved to St. Louis, and took up residence in Queeny Park in the historic Jarville House built in 1853. The collection expanded to an incredible 700 pieces. An enclosed patio opened to feature outdoor sculptures. Pathways and wildflower gardens surround the historic home and museum.
By 1995, to insure its future, the Museum re-affiliated with the American Kennel Club. In 2017, the AKC chose to move the fine collection of canine art back to New York. As one could imagine, I’m quite sad at this development and feel like the art has gone to the dogs.
Saying Goodbye My Way
Last Sunday, on a beautiful afternoon, I had one last opportunity to do a last photo shoot.
I also had two pieces in the Museum’s last group exhibition. One of the pieces “Strax” is based on a steampunk dog from my first novel “Strax and the Widow”.
It was a pleasant end to a personal dream of mine to have the meeting of my two art forms displayed in such a grand place.
Historic photos courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum archives online. AKC Museum of the Dog photo credit; A.E. Barrett/Victoria L. Szulc, model/stylist/designer: Victoria L. Szulc, dogs/shitzus: Effie Belle Trinket and Pippin. Sources: The Victoria and Albert Museum and At Home and Astray: the Domestic Dog in Victorian London by Philip Howell. Get more info on the museum at museumofthedog.org
Victoria L. Szulc, “The Countess”, is a multi-media Steampunk artist/writer working on her fourth Steampunk novel, “Lafayette to London” and is the resident artist and a tour guide for Haunted STL Tours. You can follow her works at mysteampunkproject.wordpress.com.