Selected works may include depictions of: the “human-animal bond,” animals grieving for humans and/or other animals, humans grieving for a beloved animal, connections to ‘nature,’ and/or burials. Gallery curated by Eric Greene.
Note: All artwork may not depict literal themes of death or bereavement, but have been selected for their poignancy, symbolism or mood. Paintings and drawings are presented chronologically.
Death of the Historical Buddha
Death of the Historical Bddha. For more information, read here.
Gerrit Dou, Sleeping Dog Beside a Terracotta Jug
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, Half-submerged Dog
According to Museo Nacional del Prado, “The mural paintings that decorated the house known as “la Quinta del Sordo,” where Goya lived have come to be known as the Black Paintings…This piece has been related with the idea of the inevitability of death and is, beyond doubt, the most enigmatic of the Black Paintings…The German Expressionists and the Surrealist movement, as well as representative of other contemporary artistic movements, including literature and even cinema, have seen the origins of modern art in this series of compositions by an aged Goya, isolated in his own world and creating with absolute liberty.” It was also referenced by Laurie Anderson in her personal film, Heart of a Dog.
Edwin Henry Landseer, The Poor Dog (The Shephard’s Grave)
Edwin Henry Landseer, The Old Sheperd’s Chief Mourner
Historian Keri Cronin writes: “this painting became an important part of animal advocacy campaigns in the 19th century…in March 1881, it was reproduced on the pages of Our Dumb Animals, the publication of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA), and declared to be “eminently appropriate” for this publication.” Read more at Our Hen House.
William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat
The Scapegoat was one of the best known and somewhat controversial religious paintings of the 19th century. It references an observance among ancient Hebrews described in Leviticus (read more here). Inscribed on the painting’s frame at top and bottom are two Biblical phrases:
Surely he hath borne our Griefs and carried our Sorrows, yet did we esteem him, stricken, smitten of GOD and afflicted. – Isaiah 53:4
And the Goat shall bear upon him all their Iniquities unto a Land not inhabited. – Leviticus 16:22
James Archer, A Dog Mourning Its Little Master
August Friedrich Schenk, Anguish
Briton Riviere, Sympathy
Riviere’s Sympathy was among the most well-known animal portraits of the day, as discussed by the Royal Holloway Collection: The Spectator made an important point: Riviere was the natural successor to Landseer, who had died in 1873, and that he had even surpassed Landseer in his own way, ‘for he has given feeling to his animals, and yet kept them strictly within their own nature . . . Never attempting to render in his works human expression in a dog’s face, he has nevertheless mastered the points where canine and human nature touch, and painted them with an insight and comprehension with which no other artist of whom we know can at all compare’. Read more
The painting has had a resurgence since 2007 when an artist rendered the dog as a ghost.
Anna Merritt, Portrait de Minna Sophia Farrer tenant un lapin
Briton Rivière, Requiescat
Currier & Ives, The Burial of the Bird
Arthur Heyer, White Cat and Two Brimstone Butterflies
Vincent van Gogh, Tree Roots
Fortunino Matania, Goodbye, Old Man
Italian artist, Chevalier Fortunino Matania, was commissioned in 1916 to raise money for The Blue Cross Fund, a London-based animal welfare charity. The painting, Goodbye, Old Man, shows a soldier bidding farewell to his fatally injured horse and is perhaps his most well known work. It now hangs in the boardroom of the charity’s animal hospital in Victoria, London. More than one million horses served with the British Army during World War I and the Blue Cross treated thousands. For more information, read Goodbye, Old Man: Matania’s Vision of the First World War.
Erika Carter, Untitled
Matthew Inman. I have Firsthand Experience with an Undead Parrot
From the graphic series published in The Oatmeal. See part two, focusing on Grump’s burial, here.
Get to know more about parrots from the beautiful and moving documentary, Parrots Confidential, part of PBS’ Nature series. For a story on the life, trauma and death of Malachi, a captured coral pink Moluccan Cockatoo, read Gay Bradshaw’s memorial here.
revised February 27, 2020