Edwin Landseer - Low Life

by Stephanie Meier-Kaftan

"What a dog's life" - this saying is also encountered in our everyday lives today. It stands for living a miserable existence or a miserable life. In today's context it is rather used to express that we have a "hard life", for example by too much work. That in earlier times for many dogs life was really a "dog's life" is proven by the painting "Low Life" by Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873) from 1829. It is the counterpart to the painting "High Life", also painted by Landseer. Both paintings have the intention to contrast the different worlds of the time by means of the two dogs.

The picture with just 45.7x35.2 cm rather small format shows a stone door frame, in which a white-brown dog sits on a weathered stone staircase, which has clear scars or wounds. It is a war-scarred terrier guarding its owner's wardrobe.


Landseer is praised above all for its detailed and realistic style of depiction. Various image details here refer to the owner's background. These include the beer mug standing on the floor, the clay pipe, as well as the whip and a key located on the hook. These details already suggest a simple origin. Only the further props give information about the profession, first of all the scuffed butcher's block made of wood, which is behind the dog.


On it are a knife, a bottle in the background and the black top hat. Right behind it, standing on the floor, are worn boots. The terrier represents, on behalf of its owner, the rough and urban values of the uneducated English working class, the "English rabble". The terrier shown in this painting is thus in direct contrast to the deerhound in the painting "High Life", which symbolizes the refined and chivalrous life of the upper class.



Edwin Landseer - Low life

Oil on wood, 1829, 45.7 x 35.2 cm, Tate, London


Edwin Landseer - High life

Oil on wood, 1829, 45,7 x 34,9 cm, Tate, London

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