English painter Francis Barraud (1856 - 1924) was an honorable journeyman, an artist of talent but not genius. Yet in 1898, thanks to a typically curious terrier, he created an image more enduring than masterworks by many of his more celebrated rivals.Berraud s subject was his brother's faithful dog, Nipper, whose favorite pastime was peering quizzically into the horn of a phonograph, searching in vain for the source of the sound. Barraud immortalized this endearing tableau in the world s most famous dog painting, His Master s Voice. Nipper died three years before Barraud began his now-iconic portrait His Master s Voice was painted from memory. Commonly identified as a fox terrier, Nipper was actually a mixed-breed. According to his biographer (yes, Nipper has a biographer), he had plenty of bull terrier in him. The artist offered his work to the Edison-Bell Company, whose executives failed to see how it could help sales. Dogs don t listen to phonographs, was their logical if unimaginative conclusion.
Eventually His Master s Voice was adopted as a trademark of the Gramophone Company Ltd. of London, and the American rights were acquired by RCA in 1929. At mid-20th century, so great was the inquisitive terrier s fame that RCA distributor RTA Corp. erected a four-ton, 26-foot-tall Nipper atop its headquarters in Albany, New York. The largest manmade dog in the world! crowed the company s president at the unveiling. By the turn of the 21st century Nipper had become, according to an advertising-industry poll, one of the Top Ten Famous Brands of the previous hundred years.
Today RTA is long gone, but Nipper remains an Albany landmark. He so dominates the cityscape that an air-traffic beacon is affixed to his ear.
Read the latest Once Upon a Dog in AKC Family Dog magazine.