"It’s not commonly known, but Dogs Playing Poker by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge refers to not just one painting, but 18 of them! The series includes the artist’s original Poker Game (1894) painting, along with 16 other oil paintings commissioned in 1903 by Brown & Bigelow to advertise cigars, and an additional 1910 painting. All eighteen of these paintings feature comical, humanized dogs; however, only eleven of the paintings actually depict poker-faced pups playing cards around a table.
A Friend in Need (1903) is arguably one of the most popular (and thereby most recognizable) paintings ever. However, unlike other iconic works such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Coolidge’s paintings were never considered by critics to be genuine “art.” Instead, when they were first published, Coolidge’s oil-on-canvas paintings left people in hysterics. Art historian and director of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Virginia, William Hennessey, even went so far as to publicly mock the series on April Fools Day in 2002 by releasing a press release claiming he was trying to acquire the series for the museum’s collection. However, Hennessey later admitted, “I’ve always liked them,” and he isn’t alone.
With their expressive faces, smoker pipes, and whiskey glasses, Coolidge’s poker dogs have become iconic. So much so that they’ve been referenced in popular TV shows—such as Cheers, Parks and Recreation, and The Simpsons—copied and parodied countless times, and have even become popular kitsch motifs for t-shirts, coffee mugs, and home decor. Furthermore, Coolidge’s first painting, Poker Game (1984), was recently sold for $658,000 at a Sotheby’s New York sale on November 18, 2015."