• France, Private Collection
"One could say of him as was said of the good La Fontaine that he knew how to make animals speak, as he had so much expression and truthfulness in his brushstroke and coloring. Huet the Father had a beautiful talent; Huet the Son was not his inferior in any respect.”
Dubois de Montignon, Nicolas Huet’s student, 27 septembre 1830
The spitz, from the German word meaning "pointed," a term apparently employed by Count Eberhard zu Sayn in the 16th century in reference to the dog’s tapered snout, is an old race of companion dogs which in England was also known as a “Fox Dog” for the same reason. In the mid 18th century the smallest spitz was called a Pomeranian, from the name of the southern coastal region between Germany and Poland along the Baltic Sea. Very much appreciated for its playful personality, its attachment to its master, and its strong protective instinct despite its miniature size, the White Pomeranian spread first across Germany. It then entered France and Great Britain where it finished by dethroning King Charles. In 1758, Jean-Marc Nattier placed a White Pomeranian at the feet of Adelaide of France (Versailles). The spitz appeared later in official portraits of Charlotte of Prussia, the Duchess of York, by John Hoppner (1792, private collection) and of her mother-in-law, Queen Charlotte of England, by Peter-Edward Stroehling (1807, Royal Collection). Thomas Gainsborough painted several portraits of the Pomeranians belonging to the Queen and his friends (1777, Pomeranian Bitch and Puppy, Tate). It is thus altogether natural that these small mischievous canines appeared in the work of the most famous animal painters such as George Stubbs (1724-1806) and Nicolas II Huet.
From an illustrious dynasty of animal and flower painters, Nicolas II was born at the Louvre where his father, Jean-Baptiste Huet (Hüet) had a studio. Received into the Academy as an animal painter, Jean-Baptiste excelled in pastoral scenes peopled with animals in a style close to that of François Boucher. Although trained by his father, Nicolas turned to a refined and scientific style which had more in common with Pierre-Joseph Redouté and Nicolas Maréchal. Like them, he worked exclusively in watercolors and gouache, and frequently on parchment. He made his début at the Salon de Jeunesse in 1788 by presenting still lifes, but rapidly chose to specialize in animal painting.
Under Napoleon, Huet was noticed by Josephine who employed him to paint the animals in her menagerie. Iin 1804, after Pierre Oudinot’s death, Huet was appointed Painter at the Museum of Natural History Library for which he executed 246 drawings on parchment published in 1808 under the title Collection de mammifères du Museum d’histoire naturelle (Mammal Collection at the Museum of Natural History). He then replaced Gérard van Spaendock as the First Professor of Animal Iconography for the Museum. Huet also illustrated many naturalist works, such as the Description of Egypt by Dominique-Vivant Denon, as well as the works of Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Georges Cuvier.
From 1802 until just before he died, Huet exhibited his animal drawings at the Salon. Initially they consisted of the parchments realized for the Museum, and then images of less exotic animals intended for collectors. These drawings included companionship dogs: Several dogs in 1819 (no. 618) and Dog, drawing belonging to M. le Vicomte d’Armenouville, in 1827 (no. 1487). As time went by, the artist constituted a large private clientele. Thus King Frederick Augustus II of Saxony and André Massena, Prince of Essling and Duke of Rivoli, were among his admirers.
Realized on particularly fine parchment, our drawing undoubtedly was intended for an important collection. In fact, this carefully groomed little animal with his “lion’s mane” is not a simple generic illustration of the Pomeranian spitz, but rather the portrait of a specific dog, presumably the only belonging to the person who commissioned the drawing. The artist has chosen to depict the animal quite advantageously in a pose that is an invitation to play in an almost neutral virtually empty setting. The extraordinarily smooth surface of the support reveals the artist’s virtuosity. He works in small delicately blended vibrant strokes with the precision of a miniaturist. Our work recalls the words of Cyrille Gabillot when he wrote that Huet
“had something more precious perhaps that an artistic point of view: the gift of life; his animals, his birds, always have a pose which is familiar to them, one which is characteristic of them: they live.”
Two other drawings by Nicolas II Huet depict the white spitz of Pomerania, both are on paper, conserved in private hands, and very different in composition and expression. The first, dated 1819, shows the animal full face with his ears back. In the second, realized in 1828, the little dog is shown “wildly” against a background of bluish mountains and his fur is neither cut nor coiffed.
General Literature (Unpublished Work)
Cyrille GABILLOT, Les Hüet : Jean-Baptiste et ses trois fils, Paris, 1892, p. 134.