A Dog Swap

Published:August 2, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

A Dog Swap by Richard Norris Brooke, 1881. Housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., this painting of Brooke’s was created at the same time as A Pastoral Visit. Some background:

His ‘Pastoral Visit’ of 1880 was for many years one of the most popular paintings at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. ‘Dog Swap’ was less well known, but is perhaps the finer painting. Brooke’s choices of subject and his reasons for these choices, as well as the critical reaction the painting received, reflect artistic and social values of the time […]

The varying critical attitudes towards ‘Dog Swap’ may have been similar to those accorded to the more famous Corcoran picture. Both are well painted. What is also important here is that in the 1880s a Southern artist wanted to depict his fellow Southerners, the Negroes, in a sympathetic and dignified light, even though he saw them in a hierarchical status different from his own, just as French middle-class artists saw their peasants as different from themselves. Brooke saw the Negroes as an integral part of Southern culture and wanted to represent them as such.

“I am pleased to think, from the reception given by the public to this effort,” he wrote in 1881, “that my object, however realized, has been felt and appreciated.”