This dog-adoring column only needs the flimsiest of excuses to run stories and pictures of dogs but today's two excuses are sturdy ones; each as robust as an airedale in its prime.
One excuse is that ACT Rescue and Foster (ARF), rescuer of euthanasia-menaced dogs is celebrating the reaching of a momentous milestone. Our portrait is of Peppa, and if she looks a little smug it is because she knows she represents that milestone. More of her in a moment.
The other excuse is that a new book, Steven Miller's Dogs in Australian Art – A New History of Antipodean Creativity is just published. One of its many super pictures, Terry Batt's Double Happiness – The Year of the Dog (2006), is decorating our page. More about it in just a few wags of the tail of an A American foxhound, the breed of Batt's painting.
To digress for a moment, Dogs in Australian Art – A New History of Antipodean Creativity is, thank goodness, infinitely more readably charming and tail-waggingly approachable than the dull and slightly severe title its publisher has given it. How often one sees a book with a title that handicaps it in a bookshop where it competes with oodles of books for the goldfish-brief attention spans of browsing shoppers.
Publishers would do well, choosing book titles, to imitate the art of the newspaper headline. The classic newspaper headline Headless Body In Topless Bar captures this art at its best. Concise, but, packed with suggestions of murder and sleaze, it is irresistibly intriguing. You just have to read what follows.
Recently, I was called upon to launch the sumptuous new edition of the Australian Native Plant Society's Australian Plants for Canberra region gardens and other cool climate areas. I chided my ANPS audience for giving so important a book such a chaste, untitillating title.
Sex sells, I lectured them. So, thinking of the current publishing sensation Fifty Shades Of Grey and of the predominant foliage colours of the Australian flora,why haven't you called the bookFifty Shades Of Grey-Green – Australian Plants for Canberra region gardens etc?
My audience fell about laughing, not realising that, coming as I do from the world of commerce where sales and readership matter, I was in deadly earnest.
ARF, though, has the catchy name Chinwag, for its journal, and the cover of the Winter edition is blessed with this portrait of Peppa. She is ARF's 2500th dog rescued and rehomed since the volunteer organisation was formed in 2001.
This column likes to bring its readers heart-warming stories in these chilling times and we report that Peppa was woebegone and nervous when ARF found her at a pound. Now, though, her new owner rejoices that "She just loves the beach – she even went in the water up to her knees! I feel as if we have been together for years – she is just beautiful. Thank you [ARF] so much – my house feels like a home again".
Brushing away an unmanly tear, and urging you to go to ARF's website at fosterdogs.org/ we press on to the aforementioned new book.
Steven Miller works at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He owns Finbar, a Welsh terrier. He (Miller, not so much Finbar) is a wit. Some of his selections for his book are more inspired and zany than simply scholarly.
One of his selections is Ludwig Becker's 1861 Border of the Mud Desert near Desolation Camp, showing two dogs in the foreground, watching the Burke and Wills party disappearing into the shimmering distance of the baking outback. Becker's watercolour is predominantly blue and yellow.
This is because, Miller asserts in the book, "it looks out upon this landscape with the eyes of the two dogs in the foreground".
"It is known that dogs are dichromatic, seeing only the two primary colours of blue and yellow, and their combinations. The striking palette used in this watercolour is not, as some have claimed, simply an attempt to evoke the sun-bleached landscape of Australia; it is the first example of the dog-privileged vision in Australian landscape painting."
We almost completely fell for this (would the owner of a Welsh Terrier lie?) but did ask about it in conversation with him, whereupon he confessed that "with the Becker painting I am being fanciful".
"In fact with the whole book I had a bit of tongue-in-cheek attitude. I wanted to be cheeky and play on the idea of a revisionist history of Australian art. However, I hope that the reader will realise that in the end, the place of dogs in Australian art is really very important and really interesting."
We think he may be being truthful when he says of Terry Batt's Double Happiness that the two American foxhounds mirroring each other in Double Happiness suggest the Chinese concept of "double happiness".
"The Chinese custom of repeating the symbol for 'happiness', particularly during New Year, is thought to bring good luck. The painting ... does have a calligraphic quality to it, suggestive of the pictograms which make up the Chinese alphabet."
Terry Batt paints with authority on the subject of double happiness because he is the blissful owner of two airedales, Bella and Fergus.
*Steve Miller's Dogs in Australian Art – A New History of Antipodean Creativity, is published by Wakefield Press.