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Overdue Recognition

For the C.M. Coolidge series Dogs Playing Poker

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Museum Director Determined to Show the Chrysler is Not a Stuffy Old Institution

Chrysler Director William Hennessey said today he has one last major acquisition target before his retirement this fall—the acquisition of the entire Dogs Playing Poker series by C.M. Coolidge.

The Complete Series

A Bachelor's Dog
A Bold Bluff
Breach of Promise Suit
A Friend in Need
His Station and Four Aces
New Year's Eve in Dogville
One to Tie Two to Win
Pinched with Four Aces
Poker Sympathy
Post Mortem
The Reunion
Riding the Goat
Sitting up with a Sick Friend
Stranger in Camp
Ten Miles to a Garage

"I've always liked them," Hennessey said.

Coolidge had no formal training but showed innate skill in moving from cartoons to detailed and technically proficient oil-on-canvas paintings. Designed for the Brown & Bigelow Co. to advertise cigars, Coolidge did his first commission in the series in 1903.

The entire Brown & Bigelow series consists of 16 paintings, and in nine the dogs are playing poker. Other themes included baseball, ballroom dancing, testifying in court, and pushing a broken-down car.

Known as "Cash" to his friends (the C.M. stood for Cassius Marcellus) he was once described in The New York Times as "the Michelangelo of the dog world." Cash would be an appropriate nickname. Where a Coolidge original sold for $74,000 in 1998, appreciation of his work has soared. Two originals, when auctioned in 2005, fetched just under $300,000 apiece.

In 1909, at the age of 64 and at the height of his fame, he married a 29-year-old art student, fathered a child, moved to Brooklyn and gave up painting to become a writer.

His 1934 obituary noted he had "painted many pictures of dogs" in his lifetime. His wife, as it turned out, was partial to cats.

Said Hennessey: "There's long been a spirited debate in scholarly circles about the position of canine art within the canon. I believe it is now time for these iconic images to assume their rightful place on the walls of our institutions where homo-centric art has too long been unjustly privileged."

SHOWN ABOVE: C.M. Coolidge, A Friend in Need,, oil on canvas, ca. 1903-10. EDITOR'S NOTE: April Fool! Every word printed above is true with the single exception of the suggestion that the Chrysler is actually trying to obtain these paintings. The prankster's holiday gave us the opportunity to tell the story behind some of the most widely reproduced paintings in history.