Low Life Edwin Henry Landseer Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Edwin Henry Landseer's oil painting Low Life features a dog called Jack, and as the title suggests, he doesn't live in the best of circumstances. Jack is sitting on a cold, stone floor in a rather bleak setting, but has a stern look on his face as he guards his owner's possessions.

Landseer used the same dog in another of his works, A Jack in Office, which sees Jack hoarding food on a table, with other dogs sniffing around and starving on the floor. The painting is said to represent Jack as a member of the government, who is being greedy and not feeding the poor people. Low Life is part of a pair of paintings by Landseer. The other, entitled High Life, features a deerhound living on a rich country estate, in much better conditions than Jack. They were designed to show the contrast between the different classes. The duo were first exhibited in 1831, and were then acquired by Robert Vernon. They eventually made their way to the Tate collection, where they still reside.

Landseer showed lots of promise, in terms of his artistic talent, from an early age. His father, John Landseer, was an engraver, and he taught Edwin early on. Benjamin Robert Haydon was also charged with teaching Landseer, and encouraged his love of painting animals by getting him to dissect them to understand their structure. Such was his talent, that he exhibited artworks for the Royal Academy from the age of just 13.

His love of animals can be seen in his most famous work, the lions around the base of Nelson's Column in London. They have resided there since 1867 and are a lasting legacy to Landseer. In addition to this legacy, a breed of Newfoundland dog was named after him, simply called the Landseer, after he featured them in his paintings.

One of his biggest fans turned out to be Queen Victoria. She commissioned him to paint several artworks for her, mainly of her pets, but also a portrait of herself, which she gave to Prince Albert as a gift. Landseer even taught them both to etch. He is known to have collaborated with the painter Frederick Richard Lee, who mainly painted landscapes. Lee would paint the main landscape of the picture, and Landseer would add some animals to complete it.