Imagine the home of that person you know who loves dogs a little too much: figurines, stuffed animals, artwork that elevates house pets to the realm of saints.
Add cutting-edge touch-screen tables and a high-class Park Avenue address, and you more or less have the American Kennel Club’s Museum of the Dog, which recently moved to New York, its original home, after decades in the suburbs of St. Louis.
The airy museum, on the lowest floors of a tower near Grand Central Terminal, houses the American Kennel Club’s collection of art, artifacts and everything imaginable related to dogs: a Victorian dogcart, the parachute of a Yorkie who served in World War II, miniature models of an Austrian pug band. A vitrine holds an assortment of collars, including one used to deliver messages. There is even a 30-million-year-old fossil of an extinct dog ancestor.
“I keep telling people I want to get a mummy, though,” Alan Fausel, the museum’s executive director, said in an interview while conducting a tour of the museum. “You can’t have a better combination than dogs and mummies for kids.”
The one thing you won’t find here is a real dog, unless it’s a service animal. Because the museum is in an office building, it can’t allow pets inside. (Those who want to share art with their dogs might consider New York’s small galleries, many of which don’t mind them.)
Soon after entering, visitors can stand in front of a touch-screen monolith that takes their photo and matches them to the dog breed they most resemble. (I was a German pinscher, a revelation that has haunted me for days.) This is one of the many technology-rich fixtures installed by the architectural firm Gensler, which designed the new space with other interactive features, including an encyclopedia of the American Kennel Club’s nearly 200 recognized breeds, and a wall-size screen with a virtual-reality dog for training.
But the museum’s stars are its paintings and artifacts, like a portrait of President George H.W. Bush’s dog Millie on the White House lawn, accompanied by a signed letter from Barbara Bush. Here are five highlights from the collection.
Skeleton of Belgrave Joe
“He was the Abraham of his breed,” Mr. Fausel said of Belgrave Joe, a pioneering terrier who lived from 1868 to ’88. Before him, there were terriers who hunted foxes; after him, there were, officially, fox terriers.
Belgrave Joe weighed 18 pounds — before his “extreme weight loss,” Mr. Fausel said with a smile, referring to the dog’s current skeletal state — and was “prodigious in his offspring, so he really influenced the line.”
After Joe’s death, his owner, Luke Turner, had the dog’s skeleton preserved and displayed at the Kennel Club in London. From there, it made its way to the Royal Veterinary College, where it was stored in a closet until an anatomy student found it. But Belgrave Joe found a forever home in the American Kennel Club, which acquired his skeleton in the 1930s and has exalted it ever since.
‘Pug and Terrier’
John Sargent Noble’s 1875 painting, Mr. Fausel said, is a bit of social commentary. In the second half of the 19th century, he said, beggars began to use dogs to court sympathy and, hopefully, charity. Hence the word “PITY,” partly visible, on the cup hanging from the terrier’s collar. “And so you have a well-fed pug,” Mr. Fausel added, “looking at this downtrodden dog.”
‘Ch. Nornay Saddler’ and ‘The Totteridge XI’
These two paintings are hung together for the sake of juxtaposition: One is the breed’s ideal, while the other is an attempt to reach it.
Ch. Nornay Saddler, a smooth fox terrier painted here by Edwin Megargee in 1940, was a 25th-generation descendant of Belgrave Joe. The portrait has anatomical precision — no accident, Mr. Fausel said, because it was meant to be a “very direct” representation of the dog widely regarded as one of the greatest in show dog history. Mr. Fausel added that when the standard for this breed was written, the people involved “closed their eyes and dreamed of Nornay.”
The Totteridge dogs, depicted here by Arthur Wardle in 1897, were less ideal. These are the same breed, but alterations — the lengthening of a tail, for example — were made in the translation from reality to art, Mr. Fausel said. “He tried to perfect the dogs through the painting,” he added. “None of them looked as good as in this painting.”
Rosseau came to painting in his 30s, after his life was upended by the Civil War, and he worked a series of unrelated jobs. His English setter Leda was the work’s subject. “This is a very powerful painting,” Mr. Fausel said. “Just look at the command of the brush stroke, especially on the fur of the dog.”
Dog portraiture, Mr. Fausel said, got a huge boost from Queen Victoria, a dog lover who commissioned many paintings. Her son Edward VII carried on the enthusiasm. His favorite dog was Caesar, a wire fox terrier. Planning for his own death, the king arranged for Caesar to be in the funeral procession.
This 1910 painting, by Maud Earl, shows Caesar in the aftermath, mourning Edward VII. “And the armchair,” Mr. Fausel said, “slowly fades into the background, much like his master.”
American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog
101 Park Avenue, Manhattan; 212-696-8360, museumofthedog.org.