A Devonshire Collection work by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) has been given pride of place in a new exhibition 'Portraits of Dogs: from Gainsborough to Hockney' at the Wallace Collection, in London.
The painting, known as 'Laying down the Law' (or Trial by Jury), was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840 and is one of the most celebrated dog paintings of the 19th century.
It was acquired by the 6th Duke of Devonshire who later requested that Landseer paint in his Blenheim spaniel as a cub reporter.
In the painting, Landseer takes advantage of the individual characteristics of the various dog breeds to mock the different roles of the legal profession. The long fluffy white ears of the poodle parody the legal wig worn by a judge.
At the time, the painting was recognised as a satire on the Court of Chancery, which was established to settle common law disputes, such as contested wills. The endless delays in the court were renowned for exhausting the finances of the litigants whilst enriching its lawyers. The subject was also dealt with by Charles Dickens in his novel, 'Bleak House'.
'Portraits of Dogs' is at the Wallace Collection until 15 October 2023. The exhibition contains more than 50 works that explore '...our devotion to four-legged friends across the centuries. Through carefully selected paintings, sculptures, drawings, works of art, and even taxidermy, the exhibition highlights the unique bond between humans and their canine companions.'