The Muse of Animals: Famous artists who were inspired by their pets — Art History Kids (2024)

by Shiona Herbert

Have you heard of the ‘pet effect?’ It’s the term given to the many benefits of owning a pet which include reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, increased physical fitness and a sense of attachment.

That’s a powerful tonic to enjoy!

Many famous artists’ beloved pets provided valuable companionship and a reason to get some exercise (and be playful), after intense hours of working on art. Various artists have been inspired by animals whether they were their pets or not. Let’s find out a little more about the muse of animals in art.

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Pablo Picasso

Founder of Cubism, Pablo Picasso, produced many continuous-line drawings of animals. His dachshund ‘Lump’ was the inspiration for one of them, but did you know that Picasso had a pet goat by the name of ‘Esmeralda?’ His beloved goat was immortalized in many drawings, sculptures, and numerous glazed plates. Esmeralda even features in the delightful childhood recollections of Anthony Penrose in the story book: The Boy Who Bit Picasso .

Joan Miro

Penrose must have had an incredibly stimulating childhood as the son of photographerLee Millerand surrealist artistRoland Penrose, for he penned another book about Joan Miro in Miro’s Magic Animals.

This charming read highlights Penrose’s encounters with the great surrealist artist, particularly a visit to the London Zoo. Miro was fascinated with animals: their shape, how they moved and how they behaved. He would spend hours watching them. Many of Miro’s works of art feature animals and animal-like creatures. In the 1970s, Miro experimented with lithographs and produced many surrealist images of cats like the one below. Notice how it is made of simple lines and shapes.

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Miro’s family owned a farm in the Catalan region of Spain. He loved spending time living and working there, keeping domestic animals and livestock. This would have afforded Miro countless hours of observing animals of all sizes.

Andy Warhol

American Pop Artist Andy Warhol had many artistic adventures with animals. Warhol and his mother published a limited-edition booklet of cat drawings titled: 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue puss*(1954). The shenanigans of his domestic cats also inspired a story book by his nephew James Warhola: Uncle Andy’s Cats.

Warhol produced a Dogs and Cats series of silkscreened paintings of domestic house cats and dogs prompted by an art collector who wanted a pop art portrait of their dog. It turned out so well that Warhol went on to create more pet pop portraits.

A dedicated dog dad of dachshund Archie (and later Amos), whom he bought for himself as a Christmas present. Archie accompanied Warhol to many official openings and social events.

Warhol’s love of animals went so far as to create an exhibition of screen prints of endangered animals. In 1983 Warholwas commissioned by friend and publisher Ron Feldman to create a portfolio of ten endangered species to raise environmental consciousness. Warhol fondly referred to this series as his “animals in makeup.”¹

Frida Kahlo

Mexican modern artist Frida Kahlo was undeniably inspired by animals. Fifty five of the 143 paintings she created feature animals– many of them her pets! Kahlo was in a horrific bus accident at the age of 18 that required her to undergo countless operations and led her to experience health problems her entire life. This left her unable to have a family, so her pets became her ‘children.’

The menagerie of animals that Kahlo owned included: a fawn, an eagle, parakeets, macaws, hens, sparrows, and Xoloitzcuintles (Mexican hairless dogs), so she always had animal muses close by. It’s known that her Amazon parakeet Bonito would perform tricks at the table to entertain Kahlo’s guests for rewards of pats of butter.

A lovely poem titled The Parakeets by fellow countryman artist Alberto Blanco brings more intrigue to this visually charming bird. An adorable little book by Monica Brown that highlights the importance of animals in Kahlo’s life is Frida Kahlo and her Animalitos .

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Me and My Parrots, 1941

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Juan Guzman, Frida with Two Birds, c1940s

Augusta Savage

As a child, Harlem Renaissance artist Augusta Savage spent hours creating clay ducks, pigs, and chickens out of clay. The clay was an abundant source in her hometown of Green Cove Springs, Florida. As a teenager, Savage was paid to instruct clay modelling classes at her high school. After finishing school, Savage continued to make clay figures of animals and people. At one point, she set up a booth to sell her animal sculptures at a local fair which were very popular and she sold many. Savage also received a monetary prize for a sculpture she entered in that fair’s art exhibition. The money generated and the boost to her self-esteem motivated Savage to pursue opportunities to study art, which she did successfully, and it led to gaining scholarships to further develop her talent in Paris.

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The bronze busts of prominent civil rights figures and of children & infants that Savage later made, as well as artwork she created for the New York World Fair in 1939, are held in high regard, but it was the making of small animals that started it all.

Georgia O’Keeffe

“It seems to be my mission in life to wait on a dog”

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American Modernist Georgia O’Keeffe known for her flower canvases and desert landscapes was an avid lover of Chow dogs after a neighbor gave her two Chow puppies for Christmas that she named Bo and Chia. She referred to her chows fondly as “Little People.”

There is a delightful sculpture of O’Keeffe and her Chows in San Francisco that was created by fellow artist and friend Marisol Escobar who created the artwork based on a photograph she took of O’Keeffe when she was visiting her.

Create an autobiographical animal sculpture

If you were to make a sculpture of yourself and your pets, or of yourself and a favorite animal, what would it look like?

  • Would you be standing or sitting?

  • Would you be patting or holding your animal?

  • How big would you want the sculpture to be?

  • Where would you like it to be located? (In a local park, your backyard, or at a local pet store?)

Consider planning your ideas of your sculpture on a piece of paper and then find some playdough, clay or even a pile of dirt that you can add water to, and make up your own small-scale autobiographical sculpture of yourself and your beloved pet/animal as inspired by the art of French-Venezuelan artist Marisol Escobar for her friend Georgia O’Keeffe.

Or be inspired by Augusta Savage and create small sculptures of the animals you see in your every day living. Alternatively, if you have some paper plates at home, draw the head of your pet in the center of the plate and decorate the surrounding flat edge with patterns to connect with Picasso’s joy of seeing his pet goat on ceramic plates.

We’d love to see the artwork your kids are creating! Share them in our fun community facebook group.

Find out more about artists and their pets

Learn more about these artists!! We’ve featured Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe, Pablo Picasso, and Augusta Savage.

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The Muse of Animals: Famous artists who were inspired by their pets  — Art History Kids (2024)
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