When it comes to gambling-inspired art, nothing is quite as popular as the series of oil paintings collectively known simply as “Dogs Playing Poker”. In fact, in an art auction held on February 15, 2005, a pair of the original oil paintings from this series was sold to an anonymous buyer for a surprising total amount of $590,400. This final auction amount surprised the organizing body of the art auction who has estimated the two paintings to sell no higher than just $30,000 a piece.
To the average person, the “Dogs Playing Poker” series of oil paintings appear to be nothing more than a satirical interpretation of the game of poker, which is today the most popular card game being played in online gambling websites and in casinos. But in reality, these oil paintings have a rich story to tell that spans well over a century.
The “Dogs Playing Poker” series of oil paintings refer to 16 different oil paintings that were created by an artist named Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, more commonly known as C. M. Coolidge. Born on September 18, 1844, he grew up in Antwerp, New York and raised in an abolitionist Quaker family setting. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Coolidge did not receive any type of formal art training or education. Despite this being the case, Coolidge proved at an early age that he had a natural talent and ability for drawing and visual art so much so that he earned the nickname “Cash Coolidge” from his friends and family because of his uncanny ability to earn with his natural talent.
Coolidge began his career as an artist as a cartoonist for a local newspaper where he worked in his twenties. One of his noted achievements during this time was the conceptualization and creation of comic foregrounds where people visiting carnivals can stick their heads into life-sized cut outs of characters for them to be photographed. These have become extremely popular among the public that to this day, comic foregrounds continue to be used in carnivals and amusement parks all over the world.
In 1903, Brown & Bigelow – a notable company that is renowned for its advertising and promotional products – commissioned Coolidge to create a series of images which they were to use to promote cigar products. Brown & Bigelow wanted the images to be humorous and catchy at the same time. Coolidge always had a fancy for big dogs and came up with 16 different oil paintings depicting large dogs such as mastiffs, Great Danes, and other large dogs doing things that only humans are able to do like drinking whiskey, smoking cigars and playing poker.
Despite harsh critics from his contemporaries, the “Dogs Playing Poker” series have become a cultural icon which is able to continue to make a statement to this day, primarily due to the humor behind and irony shown in these pieces. These “Dogs Playing Poker” series have even been acted out in comedy movies, with the most recent one being the Disney/Pixar movie “Up” where a short scene showed dogs around a table playing poker. There have also been many artworks showing other artists’ own interpretation of Coolidge’s original paintings.