Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015
Prince Albert’s favourite greyhound bitch, Eos, stands poised and alert, guarding her master’s possessions – his leather gloves, top hat and ivory-topped cane. A deerskin footstool with hoof feet symbolises the Prince’s sporting interests. The shimmering black beaver fur of the top hat echoes the gleam of the dog’s coat, and both provide a dramatic contrast against the scarlet tablecloth. Through the inclusion of such personal items, the painting almost serves as a portrait of the absent Prince himself. Greyhounds are a breed traditionally associated with court life, and Landseer’s portrait tacitly alludes to earlier pictures such as Titian’s ‘Charles V with his Dog’ (Prado, Madrid) and Van Dyck’s ‘James Stuart, Duke of Richmond and Lennox’ (New York, Metropolitan Museum).
Eos accompanied her master when he arrived in England in 1840 to be married to Queen Victoria. In an early letter to his future wife, Prince Albert provides a colourful character study of the animal (Jagow 1938, p. 46):
‘You ask after…my faithful, but not disinterested Eos. She is very well, looks after herself as much as she can, sleeps by the stove, is very friendly if there is plum-cake in the room, very much put out when she has to jump over the stick, keen on hunting, sleepy after it, always proud and contemptuous of other dogs’.
Landseer is said to have borrowed the hat and gloves without Prince Albert’s knowledge, which caused some panic amongst his personal servants when the Prince decided to go out and they were not to be found. Evidently the secrecy was a success - Queen Victoria wrote on Christmas Eve, ‘Amongst my presents to him was a large life size picture of “Eos” by Landseer, with which he was quite delighted, & it came as a complete surprise’ (Journal, 24 December, 1841). The painting was hung in the Prince’s Dressing Room at Buckingham Palace.
When Eos died in 1844, Queen Victoria wrote of her husband’s distress noting that ‘she had been his constant and faithful companion for 10 ½ years and she was only 6 months old when he first had her. She was connected with the happiest years of his life…’ (Journal, 31 July, 1844). Landseer’s portrait was used as the basis for two bronze memorial statues (RCIN 98163 and 41483) standing in Windsor Home Park and at Osborne, which were modelled by the Prince himself in collaboration with the sculptor John Francis.
Eos was one of the dogs portrayed on the silver-gilt centrepiece designed by Prince Albert.
Text adapted from 'Victoria and Albert: Art & Love', London, 2010