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Original works of art

Constance Coleman
(American, 20th C. )

Constance Coleman is one of America’s most celebrated pet portraitists, an artist who has for over thirty years specialized in painting portraits of companion animals: dogs, cats and even a raccoon or two. Working primarily on commission, her paintings and pastels are in some of the finest collections in the country, and her clients include many of the bold-faced names of American society.

Constance Depler Coleman began her career in the 1950's, creating animal designs for fabrics, wallpapers and greetings cards, many of which are now avidly collected. Her commercial work eventually evolved into caricatures of pet-owners depicted as their pets. The most famous of these images were of anthropomorphized dogs socializing at bars, dancing the night away, and engaging in other carefree activities associated with the time.

After seeing the animal posters Coleman had done for the Cincinnati Zoo, her friends began to commission pet portraits from her, and in the early 1970's, she was commissioned to do a portrait of Poodles belonging to a well-known Dallas art dealer. Word of her work spread quickly and she was soon painting portraits of the pets of more than a few public figures. Included among them are some of America’s most well-known industrialists, as well as figures from the world of fashion such as Lilly Pulitzer and Oscar de la Renta. It is easy to see why Coleman’s portraits are so popular. They were usually done in pastel or oil paint, and embodied the light-hearted essence of her earlier work while capturing the individual personalities of each of her animal subjects.

When commissioned for a portrait, Coleman likes to spend time with her subject and his or her family. She often uses photographs to aid in her painting of the subject, but Coleman feels that actually meeting with her clients and their pet allows her to better understand the nature of the animal. This helps her to find the best way to portray them in the painting. Coleman’s use of vibrant hues and playful settings bring a strong sense of joy to her works. She is able to capture on canvas both the spirit of the animal and the love between pet and owner.

After turning eighty, Coleman and her daughter decided to travel to Tibet as part of a National Geographic trip led by Author Ian Baker. While there, Coleman found the culture, people, animals, and the land itself truly inspiring. The vibrant colors of Tibet, so similar to the colors she often used in her works, and the relationships between the animals and the people of Tibet spoke to her. Soon after returning home, Coleman began to plan her second trip: she spent a month in the Kham region, painting the animals she found there; sheep, pigs, chickens, donkeys, and of course dogs. Coleman found many dogs of mixed Tibetan breeds to paint. Some of the dogs she painted were kept as pets, some were guard dogs or shop dogs, and some were the cherished temple dogs. These temple dogs are believed to be the reincarnation of monks who have not yet reached Nirvana, and are therefore incredibly precious to the people of Tibet. However, despite their differing roles in society, Coleman found that all of the dogs she encountered were loved, honored, and respected. All had a calm temperament and serene nature, mirroring that of their owners and guardians.

Coleman has stated that one of the things she found most charming about her experience was that, “In Tibet, dogs look like dogs.” These animals were not primped and pampered as so many pets are today. They were allowed to behave as dogs should, while still being seen as sharing the hearts and spirits of the people who care for them.

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