Thursday, March 21, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: “Bashaw, Lord Dudley’s Favorite Dog,” by Matthew Cotes Wyatt, 1831

Bashaw or
Lord Dudley's Favourite Dog or
The Faithful Friend of Man Trampling Underfoot
His Most Insidious Enemy
Matthew Cotes Wyatt, 1831
Commissioned by Lord Dudley
The Victoria & Albert Museum
In 1831, the extravagant Lord Dudley commissioned famed sculptor Matthew Cotes Wyatt to create a life-sized bronze sculpture of his favorite dog—Bashaw. Money, Wyatt was told, was no object. Bashaw was brought to Wyatt’s studio for sittings over fifty times and the artist studied the canine’s every feature.

The sculpture was to be polychrome bronze with jeweled eyes. Lord Dudley personally selected the gemstones for the eyes after rifling through the family jewels. He chose lovely Persian topaz and sardonyx. Wyatt finished the magnificent sculpture at a cost of £5000. Now, just to put things into perspective, a full-length marble sculpture of a human man would have cost £3000. So, we can see that this was, indeed, an epic undertaking.

Too bad Lord Dudley never saw it. He died before the sculpture was completed. Even more of a pity is the fact that Wyatt was never paid for the work. Lord Dudley’s heirs referred to pay the cost which they deemed ridiculous. Wyatt kept the sculpture and displayed it in his own studio in 1834, and later at 1851’s Great Exhibition where it was heralded as the finest figure of a quadruped ever sculpted.

Detail showing topaz and sardonyx eyes
The Victoria and Albert Museum
As times and tastes changed, Bashaw’s sculpture fell out of favor. In 1960, The Victoria & Albert Museum purchased the piece for only £200. Today, however, it is appreciated for the impressive statue that it is. You can see Bashaw in all his glory as he nonchalantly tramples a large snake (which also serves to hold him up) when you visit London’s V&A.

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