The Contemporary Fine Artist’s Representation of the Animal


By:  Lindsay Hill /



The first documented human representations of animals date back to 38,000 BCE in Eurasia as cave paintings. The cave paintings were less representative of pets, and more representative of wild animals. As humans became less wild, so did their animals. Slowly, artist representations of animals started to include domesticated animals in addition to wild animals. Today, many artists use their domesticated pets as their subjects and muses in their artwork.

First, I am going to compare works made by the same artist that represent domestic pets and wild animals. These artists include Allison Schulnik, Pablo Picasso, and Paul Klee. I will then explore instances of artists representing only their pets, going into topics such as anthropomorphization and de-animalization.

There are several points I hope to make in this website…

  • Artists represent domesticated animals differently than they represent wild animals.
  • Imagination (Virtuality) plays a large role in these representations.
  • Because imagination is key in these works, it is clear to the audience that the animals presented don’t have a say in their representation, and that becomes clear in anthropomorphized and other not-true-to-life representations.


Humans have a different perception of wild animals versus domesticated animals. Erica Fudge’s Animal explains the ways in which humans divide animals into those two categories: animals that we develop a kinship with, and animals that we consider to be our food. We create a metaphor in our minds that separates the two categories of animals in order to emotionally connect with one type (domestic pets) while using and eating the other type (wild animals or food animals). This divide becomes clear in the physical differences of artist representations of pets and wild animals.




                     Wild: Unicorn                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Domesticated: Cat

Schulnik, Allison. Gin #14. 2016. Oil on canvas stretched over board. ZieherSmith, New York, New York

Schulnik, Allison. Two Long Unicorns. 2016. Oil on linen. ZieherSmith, New York, New York.

Allison Schulnik’s paintings entitled Two Long Unicorns and Gin #14 are great examples of one person’s differing visions of wild animals versus domestic animals.

The expressions on the unicorns in Two Long Unicorns are wild, searching, while they feast on each other and wield weapons (horns).

In Gin #14, the point of view of the audience is above the cat, which symbolizes a relationship in which the human is the alpha.

The cat is also laying on an ornate rug, which suggests that it lounges in the house of a human, thus living a domesticated life.




Wild: Bull                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Domesticated: Dog

Picasso, Pablo. Dying Bull. 1934. Oil on canvas. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

Picasso, Pablo. Pour Lump. 1957. Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, Texas.










Pablo Picasso’s paintings entitled Pour Lump and Dying Bull are great examples of one person’s differing visions of wild animals versus domestic animals.

Lump was the name of Picasso’s pet dachshund and he is featured in several different works throughout Picasso’s career.

The difference between these two works is stark. Dying Bull seems to encapsulate all of the symbolism associated with a bull: strength, virility, and courage, while Pour Lump was a painting that Picasso made specifically dedicated to Lump.

The bull is painted as a wild, dying animal, while Lump is painted simply.




Pablo Picasso’s The Roaster and Dora Maar au Chat are great examples of Picasso’s perception of an animal used by humans versus an animal domesticated and emotionally tied to humans.

The cat sits with the woman, touching her, while the rooster stands alone, its mouth open, paying homage to one of its roles on the farm: calling out.

For Food: Rooster                                                                                                               Domesticated: Cat                 

Picasso, Pablo. The Roaster. 1938. Pablo Picasso. Pablo Picasso. Web. 10 April 2017.

Picasso, Pablo. Dora Maar au Chat.1941. Playful Kitty. Playful Kitty. Web. 10 April 2017.



















Wild: Horse                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Klee, Paul. Mother Animal. Digital image. The Evergreen State College. The Evergreen State College, n.d. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.

Klee, Paul. Cat and Bird. 1928. Oil and ink on gessoed canvas, mounted on wood. Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York.



Paul Klee’s Mother Animal and Cat and Bird compare a symbolic, wild animal to a domesticated but still slightly wild animal.

In Mother Animal, the amalgamated creature is made up of what I believe to be a horse and a woman. Klee is merging a mother with an animal.




 Domesticated: Cat


In Cat and Bird, Klee is pointing out that while many cats live side by side with humans, they still retain their instincts for the hunt (hunting the bird).

This is a theme that is visited by many artists, including Picasso.








Now, we are moving on to another subject: The Pet.

For centuries, humans have acquired animals for purposes other than food. Dogs were the first domesticated animals, because they provided companionship and assistance with hunting. Cats also provided companionship and helped get rid of rodents. These days, some reasons we keep pets include:

  • Companionship, love, and the return of love
  • Helping to socialize children
  • Physical assistance
  • A symbol of wealth and power

To become a pet, the animal must…

  • Live in a human household
  • Be given a name
  • Be regarded as a member of the family  
  • Have its picture shared
  • Having its subjectivity recognized



Now, we can move on to some representations of pets created by contemporary fine artists.

David Hockney arguably stays true to his dog’s actual representation. Hockney captures the unaware domesticated animal: sleeping soundly in his home, on a cushion provided by the human. There seems to be a lot of affection in this representation, which is one of the purposes of acquiring animals as pets.

Hockney painted this same scene many times throughout his career.

Hockney, David. Dog Painting 17. 1995. Oil on canvas. David Hockney. David Hockney. Web. 10 April 2017.


Andy Warhol, like Hockney, stays true to his pet’s actual representation without changing it through anthropomorphization and the like. It seems to be a straightforward representation of a pet.

The dog seems to be looking toward his master, alert, waiting for whatever his human will do or command.

Warhol, Andy. Dogs and Cats. 1976. Pigment print. The Tartan. The Tartan. Web. 10 April 2017.


Norman Rockwell is known to create iconic American-inspired paintings. In this painting, two children sit together while their pet puppy waits patiently at their feet. The connection between the animal and the humans is clear.

While the humans are wrapped up in each other, their pet waits patiently and out of the way.

Rockwell, Norman. Boy and Girl Gazing at Moon (Puppy Love). 1926. Oil on canvas. Norman Rockwell Museum Collection, Indianapolis, IN.



Kahlo, Frida. Self Portrait with Monkeys. 1943. WikiArt. WikiArt. Web. 24 Mar. 2017.


Frida Kahlo‘s Self Portrait with Monkeys embodies Margo DeMello’s assertion in her book The Pet Animal that humans turn animals into pets.

Most monkeys aren’t pets, and yet, Kahlo represents them as domesticated animals who belong to her.













People also use the body parts of animals for different purposes in their homes.

Many people use parts of animals either symbolically or purely aesthetically to decorate their homes.  There are long standing traditions to display animal skulls, furs, and bones in homes to pay tribute to the lives of the animals. Hunters will also display their trophies as a status symbol.

Some of these themes are present in the following works…

Wood, Jonas. Rosy’s Masks. 2008. Oil on linen. Anton Kern, New York, New York.



Jonas Wood‘s Rosy’s Masks is a good example of humans using animal relics as decoration in their homes.

Traditionally, the act of displaying the cow head was a symbol of using every part of the cow’s body.

Today, I think it’s used more for its aesthetic value than an homage for tribal traditions. Hunters also find meaning in displaying the bones of their kills.




Mann, Sally. Eva. 2003. Collodion print. Art 21. Art 21. Web. 10 April 2017.






Sally Mann brings the two worlds together: animal body part decoration and pet representation.

She makes prints of her deceased pet dog’s bones.

While the prints can be seen as tributes to the animal’s usefulness, Mann is also honoring the lives of her dogs and the relationship they had together.




Ancient artists represented animals differently than contemporary artists because in ancient times, humans had different roles and relationships than we do today. Today, we don’t have to hunt and kill the animals ourselves, so our idea of them has changed. Most of our interactions with animals are that of the domesticated variety. Because of that, many contemporary artists do not stay true to the nature of the animals they represent. They create different characters for the animals that differ from their true character. This leads to an untrue representation, which leads me us to the concept of Virtuality…

Imagination is the key to representation. A person’s representation of reality is always mediated by their own experience, and representations become accepted and known through constant use, therefore creating its believability. Because representations are always going to be based on the maker’s experience, they are not the absolute truth or reality. This becomes liberating, especially from the artist’s standpoint. The absence of truth can create a sense of freedom when we’re not tied to how something should be represented.


One valid question is, Is A Pet An Animal?

Kari Weil asserts that human representations of pets serve to confirm the human’s perception of itself, therefore de-animalizing the actual animal. I feel this is very clear in the following artist representations of animals. Most of the animals to be shown are domesticated pets, but their identities are covered up by the artist’s vision of what their work should be. The following works are examples of that.


William Wegman is no stranger to anthropomorphizing his subjects.

He often dresses his subjects (his dogs) in human clothes, or positions them in strange, human-like positions.

Wegman, William. Youngster. 2005. Chromogenic Print. Panopticon Gallery, Boston, MA.



As Kari Weil states in her book Thinking Animals, humans de-animalize animals by creating images of them that onlyconfirm the human’s vision of itself. I think it could be argued that Wegman does this through his use of anthropomorphization.

Wegman, William. Hot and Pink. 2004 Chromogenic Print. Panopticon Gallery, Boston, MA.

Wegman, William. The Fly. 1994/2010. Chromogenic Print. Panopticon Gallery, Boston, MA.



While I am sure Wegman had wonderful relationships with his dogs, the fact that his career was built on their representation is a bit bothersome.

He controls their actions and their representation, and the animals, as always, don’t have a say in how they’re represented.













Louis Wain creates a caricature of this cat.

While cats are known to catch fish, and while there are many fine art representations of such subject matter, this cat pictured is humanized, and loses its identity as a domesticated cat.




















Wain, Louis. Untitled. 1933. Watercolor. OutsiderArt. Outsider Art. Web. 10 April 2017.


This Wain painting is a good example of Virtuality.

While the cat is easily recognizable, it strays (ha-ha) from the “true” or “real” representations of cats.

Wain has let his imagination go free, and the cat seems to be singing with color and nature.

It is less of a pet and more of visual feeling.














Dali, Salvador. Dali Atomicus. 1948. Gelatin silver print. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.


Salvador Dali‘s works are known to tip-toe past reality, into surreality.

The objects in this photograph are all in the air, as if they are moving without gravity.

The cats become a prop in what I can see as a song that Dali is creating, like a Disney movie.









Karen Knorr‘s Fables is a body of work created with the purpose of contrasting an active, pure nature with the structures designed to hold animal representations. Knorr takes images of different museums, shot with a large format camera, and manipulates the images by adding in digital representations of different animals.

To take it a step further, the animal images she adds are actually alive and dead representations of animals that are found in museums, which creates a sort of confusion for the viewer.

Knorr, Karen. The King’s Reception (Chateau Chambord). Archival Pigment Print. 2003-2008.





Knorr is directly challenging Aloi’s notion that museums are modes and means of possession of animals.

These images that Knorr has created are the opposite – the museums (and other cultural locations) are not created to represent these animals, but the animals roam freely and without consequence.


Knorr, Karen. The Green Room (Carnavalet). Archival Pigment Print. 2003-2008.





















Moving on to more “real” representations of artists and their pets…

Many of these artists had fulfilling relationships with their pets.

I will now include photographs of the artists and their pets, to give an idea of the “true” representation of the animals versus the artist’s representation that has already been pictured.













It’s clear to me that each of these artists has their own vision for their work, and their subjects. Their representations are rarely true-to-life, even in photographs. Fine art is completely subjective based on the artist’s vision, and it’s hard to gauge what the artist is saying about the pictured animal or animals.




  • Weil, Kari
  • All of the images of the artist with their pets were found at

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