Dog art has its day at Morris Museum

"Ready to Play," by Pamela Hall, is part of the Morris Museum's exhibit, "The Dog Show: The Art of Our Canine Companions."

“Ready to Play,” by Pamela Hall, is part of the Morris Museum’s exhibit, “The Dog Show: The Art of Our Canine Companions.”

Is there anything more human than a dog’s facial expression? Walking through the Morris Museum’s exhibit, “The Dog Show: The Art of Our Canine Companions,” you are tempted to think not.

In Pamela Hall’s “Ready to Play,” for instance, a bulldog stands over a soccer ball, glaring. Is he standing guard against those who might want to steal it from him. Or hoping — intently, seriously — for someone to come along and join him in some fun? Maybe a little bit of both?

In Hall’s “Favorite Chair,” right above it, a Cairn terrier sits on a fancy chair, with a blanket draped regally over the chair’s arm. But he’s got a quizzical expression, as if he’s unsure of what he’s supposed to do now, or why he deserves such good fortune.

“For many people, their family pet is very much a member of their family,” says the museum’s executive director, Linda Moore, who curated the exhibition (running through Dec. 14). “And some of these depictions are very whimsical. There’s a portrait done by Christine Merrill entitled ‘Hope,’ and it’s a bulldog looking up wistfully to a slice of pizza that’s on a table.”

"The Pride of the Belvoir," by John Emms (1904), oil on canvas.

“The Pride of the Belvoir,” by John Emms, is being shown as part of “The Dog Show.”

“The Dog Show” is not all so light-toned: Among its more than 100 works are elegant portraits of show dogs and sporting dogs; a 1929 photo of the original Rin Tin Tin; and Chet Jezierski’s “Shared Solace,” a painting of a golden retriever and a rescue worker at Ground Zero, soon after 9/11.

The exhibition also includes artifacts from the Morris and Essex Dog Show, which ran from 1927 to 1957. “It was held in Madison and had the largest attendance of any outdoor sporting event of its day,” says Moore. “At one point, it attracted 50,000 people.”

There’s only one cat in the show, looking scared while confronting a dog in Arthur Heyer’s “Hide and Seek.” But might there be a full-blown cat-art show in the Morris Museum’s future? Since the museum has already presented a popular horse-art show, “Horseplay: A History of Equestrian Sports in New Jersey,” in 2009 and 2010, that might not be a bad idea.

Related events at the museum include:

Tot Tours. Sept. 19, 10 a.m. A children’s tour of the exhibit and dog-related art project.

• Best in Show: A Conversation with William Secord, Oct. 1, 6 p.m. A discussion and tour of “The Dog Show.

• Pet Family Festival, Oct. 4, 11 a.m. -4 p.m. Dog-related crafts, demonstrations and more.

Dog Expo, Nov. 8, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Presented in conjunction with local rescue groups and business owners.

For information, call (973) 971-3700 or visit morrismuseum.org.

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