A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Two of the original “dogs playing poker” paintings sold for $590,400 to a private buyer.

“The (paintings’) sequential narrative follows the same ‘players’ in the course of a hand of poker,” said an auction note from Doyle. “In the first, our main character, the St. Bernard, holds a weak hand as the rest of the crew maintains their best poker faces. In the following scene, we see the St. Bernard raking in the large pot, much to the very obvious dismay of his fellow players.”

While this alone is worthy of comment, it turns out that the artist behind dogs playing poker, Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, also invented the life-size cutouts that let people stick their heads through and be photographed as strongmen, mermaids, polar bears, and so on.

He created 9 “dogs playing poker” paintings in 1903, on behalf of a St. Paul advertising agency.

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