The property of David Laing, Esq.
Manchester, Royal Manchester Institution, 1848. No 194
Henry Calvert was the best known of a family of painters from Darlton in Nottinghamshire. One of his brothers, Charles, was a competent landscape painter, and another, Raisley, a sculptor. Early in their lives the family moved to Manchester, where Henry was to remain for the rest of his life. Both Henry and Charles exhibited consistently at the Royal Manchester Institution, Henry showing pictures at the Royal Academy in London as well.
From the outset Henry Calvert devoted himself to animal painting and he is best known today for fine views of the English sporting scene. His paintings would vary from studies of an individual horse and rider to large panoramic views of an entire hunting field; his many-figured paintings of the Wynnstay Hunt and the Cheshire Hunt are fine examples of this latter type. But he was also a close observer of other animals, sending two big cat pictures to the RA in 1853 and a number of prize cattle pictures to Manchester. Like all sporting artists of this period Calvert would have worked mostly on commission, the De Tableys of Cheshire being his most prominent patrons. In her Dictionary of Sporting Artists, Sally Mitchell writes of Calvert: “His work is of a high standard, his horses well drawn, his composition is good and his detail of items such as saddlery is accurate…”
Calvert’s fine and imposing work, The Dandie Dinmont Family, recently rediscovered on the continent, is worked to the artist’s typically high standards. The adult dogs, though small terriers, are given the status of thoroughbred horses in their noble stances – particularly the dog on the right. But the undeniable charm of the expressions on the puppies’ faces, which makes the picture so appealing, would indicate that Calvert, in his later years, was beginning to imbue his subjects with a certain interactive animation specifically designed to engage the viewer. In this we would have to think that he was influenced by his near contemporary Sir Edwin Landseer, who with similar subjects at that date was carrying all before him.
But the picture is also fascinating in that it may be the earliest known depiction of the Dandie Dinmont breed, painted from life and named as such. The breed took its name from the jolly farmer ‘Dandie Dinmont’ in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Guy Mannering, which appeared in 1815. In the book Dinmont owned a number of terriers, which he called either ‘Mustard’ or ‘Pepper’ according to whether they were light or dark. The novel was massively successful and terriers of the type described by Scott were soon extremely popular and began to take on the name of ‘Dandie Dinmont’ for themselves. The two adult dogs in this present painting are coloured similarly to Dinmont’s dogs, and these colourings in the breed are referred to as ‘mustard’ and ‘pepper’ to this day. The breed clearly has its ancestry in the various strains of terrier found amongst the working dogs of the Border regions, but the titling of this picture in the 1848 Royal Manchester Institution exhibition tells us that the breed had now come of age - identified and named. Instead of these dogs presumably being referred to post-1815 as “terriers like Dandie Dinmont’s dogs in Guy Mannering,” or some such, this exhibition titling means that a definite breed had emerged and it was now called ‘The Dandie Dinmont’ tout court. The ‘David Laing Esq’ given by Calvert in the Manchester catalogue as the owner of these dogs must have commissioned this canvas. The substantial size – and therefore expensive cost - of the picture seems to underline Mr Laing’s considerable pride in this canine family. And if we are looking at the earliest known depiction by a professional artist of this charming breed, then that pride is easily understandable.