When you think of Victorian family portraits, animals aren’t the first thing that spring to mind. Usually a group would consist of husband and wife or parents with their brood of children. Granny and Grandpa, as well as uncles aunts and companions, might have got a look in too. However in some cases, the family pet was included in the portrait.
In my own collection it is dogs that predominate as photographic ‘extras’ as seen in this charming portrait of a small girl, taken in York by Matthew Cuthbert. The studio has been fitted out to suggest a window opening onto a garden and who has crept in but the faithful family dog. The animal, who seems to be a collie dog, looks rather bored with the photography in process. It is possible that he was a studio prop as well, brought for added interest as the need arose.
Another photograph, taken in St Petersburg by a photographer whose name I cannot decipher, leaves the viewer in no doubt that the dog in the scene belongs to the woman by its side. A slender linked chain connects the two and what could be a name tag sits at the dog’s collar. In this image it is the animal rather than the woman who seems to be the focus of the scene. He or she stares out at the camera as if being captured for posterity was an everyday occurrence. This photo gives the impression that dog and mistress were constant companions but the answer to that we shall never know.
This third photograph is evidence that it wasn’t only dogs that were treated as part of the family. Here, in a photograph by Sarony of Scarborough, a young woman plays with a parrot atop its cage, while she kneels on a flowery footstool at its side. Apparently, parrots and other birds were popular pets in the Victorian era. In a Victorian diary I have read of an instance where, when the parrot passed on, it was suggested that it should be stuffed before being reinstated in its cage. It is to be hoped that the one in the photograph fared better.