by Katherine BalleJanuary 29, '20
Cassius Marcellus Coolidge and the Story Behind "Dogs Playing Poker"
Born in New York state in 1844, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge worked several odd jobs before he turned to painting. He is now most well known for his Dogs Playing Poker series, which has frequently been referenced in films, television shows, and beyond like Cheers, The Simpsons, Toy Story 4, and That '70s Show.
Coolidge had no training as an artist before he started the series, but for fans of his work, this is no matter to pay attention to. In particular, the series — and his artwork in general, which is further exemplified by Kelly Pool, which depicts dogs playing pool — is notable for its humor and playfulness.
Dogs Playing Poker Series
The Dogs Playing Poker series is a series of eighteen paintings. This includes sixteen paintings that were commissioned by Brown & Bigelow and two additional paintings. All of the paintings in the series are oil on canvas. Although all eighteen paintings are referred to as the Dogs Playing Poker series, the Brown & Bigelow paintings were designed to advertise cigars. Only nine paintings feature dogs playing poker.
Created between roughly 1903 to 1902, the titles of the sixteen paintings in the Brown & Bigelow are as follows:
- A Bold Bluff - 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 - A Bachelor's Dog - Ten Miles to a Garage - Breach of Promise Suit - New Year's Eve in Dogville - One to Tie Two to Win - The Reunion - Riding the Goat
The most popular painting in this series is A Friend in Need, which was painted in 1903. It is a lot brighter than many of his other paintings, and it sets a more casual mood of friends playing poker. It is the most recognizable paintings of the entire series, and it is frequently a source of inspiration for TV shows and films because of its lighter spirit and sense of camaraderie (including helping a friend in need cheat).
Cassius Marcellus Coolidge poker game
However, the first painting in the entire Dogs Playing Poker series was not commissioned by Brown & Bigelow. It also happens to be Coolidge's most well-known painting. This 1894 painting, entitled Poker Game, sold for more than half a million dollars in 2015.
This painting features four dogs playing an intense game of poker. While the main focus of Poker Game appears to be the contemplative dog in the middle who is hiding his hand, if you look at the dog on the left, you'll notice that he has four aces and a queen. This hand is called Four of a Kind, and it is one of the best hands players can have for many popular variations. Knowing this, this painting suggests that it is about the anticipation of revealing a great hand, which is the most exciting moment in a game of poker. To immediately emphasize this point is a similar painting, Looks Like Four of a Kind, which he painted in 1910.
After Poker Game, Looks Like Four of a Kind is the second painting that is not a part of the series commissioned by Brown & Bigelow. In contrast to Poker Game, the mood of Looks Like Four of a Kind is much more severe. Both paintings depend on red and green tones, but Poker Game uses more green to create a calming, light atmosphere while Looks Like Four of a Kind has an abundance of red to create a more oppressive atmosphere.
Dogs Playing Poker in Popular Culture
Since its creation, this series has inspired numerous films, TV shows, cartoons, songs, plays, and artworks. For example, in Snoop Dogg's 1993 music video for "What Is My Name?" several dogs playing poker are featured. Often though, the Dogs Playing Poker series is casually mentioned by a fictional character, or it is in the background of a room. Other times, it inspires the physical layout of a scene in a TV show or film, with characters taking over the roles of the dogs. Regardless, the Dogs Playing Poker series has stood the test of time and will continue to serve as inspiration for many to come.