Cassius Marcellus Coolidge was an American artist. He became primarily known for his paintings depicting dogs playing poker.
Cassius Coolidge was born in September 1844, to Martha and Nathan Coolidge, a couple of successful, abolitionists, old-fashioned Quakers. The couple had a total of 6 children.
After leaving the family farm, Coolidge had many occupations throughout his life, such as sign painter, lightning sketch artist, and druggist. An entrepreneur, Coolidge, also founded a newspaper and a bank.
Having little to no formal training, Coolidge began his art career during his twenties, one of which was as a cartoonist for a local newspaper.
By 1873, the artist and patented the comic foreground. Coolidge would create canvases with caricature bodies, and, instead of painting a face, he would cut a hole from where a sitter would put through his head. The final result was similar to the photo stand-ins, very popular at carnivals and fair midways.
By 1894, Coolidge painted The Poker Game, the first of his series of Dogs Playing Poker, paintings that arguably surpasses the artist’s own fame. In this painting, he portrays a group of similar dogs not only playing cards, but also enjoying cigars, pipes, and a fine drink.
By 1903, the artist began to produce oil paintings for Brown & Bigelow, then mainly a producer of advertising calendars. In total, Coolidge produced sixteen pictures for the company, all depicting dogs in human situations.
In the artwork simply entitled Dog Playing Poker, Coolidge joins different breeds in the same table, like a Collie, an English Bulldog, a Saint Bernard, among others, bringing more personality to each character. This is possibly the most famous painting of the series.
The American artist engages with the comical sense of the dog’s interactions and personality, as seen in A Friend in Need, where he portrays the dogs intensely concentrated in the game. On the bottom of the composition, a husky Bulldog can be seen passing an ace of clubs to his friend behind the table, while other dogs are suspicious.
Coolidge personifies the canines even more in paintings like His Station and Four Aces, where the dogs can be seen wearing ties, raincoats, boots, and even hats.
Cassius Marcellus Coolidge died on January 13, 1934, in Staten Island, New York.