Dogs Playing Poker

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His Station and Four Aces by C. M. Coolidge, 1903.

Dogs Playing Poker refers collectively to a series of sixteen oil paintings by C. M. Coolidge, commissioned in 1903 by Brown & Bigelow to advertise cigars.[1] All the paintings in the series feature anthropomorphized dogs, but the nine in which dogs are seated around a card table are the most reproduced.

Coolidge paintings[edit]

Waterloo, c. 1906

The titles in the "Dogs Playing Poker" series proper are:

  • A Bold Bluff (originally titled Judge St. Bernard Stands Pat on Nothing)[2]
  • A Friend in Need
  • His Station and Four Aces
  • Pinched with Four Aces
  • Poker Sympathy
  • Post Mortem
  • Sitting up with a Sick Friend
  • Stranger in Camp
  • Waterloo (originally titled Judge St. Bernard Wins on a Bluff)[2]
  • Ten Miles to a Garage
  • Riding the Goat
  • New Year's Eve in Dogville
  • One to Tie Two to Win
  • Breach of Promise Suit
  • The Reunion
  • A Bachelor's Dog

These were followed in 1910 by a similar painting, Looks Like Four of a Kind. Some of the compositions in the series are modeled on paintings of human card-players by such artists as Caravaggio, Georges de La Tour, and Paul Cézanne.[2]

On February 15, 2005, the originals of A Bold Bluff and Waterloo were auctioned as a pair to an undisclosed buyer for US $590,400.[3] The previous top price for a Coolidge was $74,000.[4]

Interpretation[edit]

The paintings are popular because they are funny and therefore amusing, an inherently pleasure-causing quality. Exactly why they are funny is not fully determinable, but a likely reason is that they are ridiculous, a quality closely associated with humor according to various theories of humor (incongruity theory, computational-neural theory, ontic-epistemic theory, and benign violation theory, for instance).

There is a subtle humorous quality and emotional depth to the paintings based on the following:

  • Dogs have extremely complex emotions and try to “act” cool/excited/sad/upset, which is betrayed by their inability to control certain other physical cues that “give away their hand” so to speak. For example, if a dog was playing poker and got a good hand, he’d put on "a poker face" like nothing happened, but then you’d see it salivating, ears perking or tail wagging uncontrollably.
  • Only dog owners or those with significant experience with canines can really understand canine behavior and the range and complexity of emotions they display, which gives the series a more personal connection and adds an emotional layer of depth.
  • Subtle humor also exists in the fact that dogs do not have opposable thumbs, which prevents them from actually being able to play poker.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Dogs Playing Poker". Ooo Woo – Complete Dog Resource. 2008. Retrieved September 1, 2006. [unreliable source?]
  2. ^ a b c McManus, James. "Play It Close to the Muzzle and Paws on the Table," New York Times (December 3, 2005).
  3. ^ "A New York auction offers artistic treats for dog lovers," San Jose Mercury News (Feb 11, 2005).
  4. ^ "'Dogs Playing Poker' sell for $590K". Money.com (CNN). February 16, 2005. Retrieved September 11, 2006. 

References[edit]

  • Harris, Maria Ochoa. "It's A Dog's World, According to Coolidge," A Friendly Game of Poker" (Chicago Review Press, 2003).

External links[edit]