Presented by Signature Partner
May 16, 2024

Shock Dog

Anne Seymour Damer’s marble sculpture of a Maltese dog is on view in Making Her Mark

Anne Seymour Damer, Shock Dog

Anne Seymour Damer, Shock Dog (nickname for a dog of the Maltese breed), c. 1782. Carrara marble, 33.3 × 38 × 32.1 cm, 34 kg. Lent by The Metropolitan Musuem of Art, Purchase, Barbara Walters Gift, in honor of Cha Cha, 2014 (2014.568).

For women artists before the 19th century, having a marble sculpture practice was all but impossible. The exorbitant resources and specialized training required to carve marble and cast metal were privileges only afforded to women born into aristocratic families or those related to master sculptors. Even if a woman artist met such unlikely criteria, pursuing a career traditionally designated for men meant she would have to endure social stigma. In the case of acclaimed British sculptor Anne Seymour Damer (1748 – 1828), all the above are true. One of her most notable and unique works, Shock Dog, is on view at the AGO as part of the exhibition Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe 1400 – 1800.  

Damer’s life-sized marble depiction of a Maltese dog is meticulously detailed and realistic. The canine fondly gazes back and upward in a seated position, presumably at her owner. The masterful depth and detail of Damer’s carving work are captured through the texture of the dog’s coat—a trait associated with the breed’s once-popular nickname, Shock Dog. The sculpture sits atop a two-layered oval and rectangular base, inscribed with Damer’s signature. She signed the work in Greek to recall the classical origins of marble sculpture.   

Born in 1748 in Sevenoaks, England, Anne Seymour Damer was the only daughter of British General Henry Seymour Conway. Raised in an aristocratic environment, her godfather, famed British writer and historian Horace Walpole, encouraged her to pursue her artistic passions at an early age – specifically sculpting. After training with Italian sculptor Giuseppe Ceracchi, her practice began to develop with wax sculpture, evolving into works in terracotta, bronze and marble. She garnered wide acclaim for her Neoclassical busts, often drawn from friends in her privileged social circle. From 1748 to 1818, Damer exhibited over 30 works at the Roya Academy of Arts in London. In addition to her robust sculptural practice, she worked as an author, theatrical producer and actress.  

Damer is not the only woman of distinction tied to Shock Dog. In 2014, the late American journalist and celebrity personality Barbara Walters gifted the marble dog to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honour of her beloved dog, Cha Cha. Walter’s Cha Cha was a Cuban Havanese, a breed originally associated with aristocracy, which makes her strikingly similar to Shock Dog - both in appearance and social status.  

Making Her Mark: A History of Women Artists in Europe, 1400–1800 is co-organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Baltimore Museum of Art. The AGO presentation is on view on Level 2 through July 1. The exhibition is co-curated by Dr. Alexa Greist, AGO Curator and R. Fraser Elliott Chair, Prints & Drawings and Dr. Andaleeb Banta, BMA Senior Curator and Department Head, Prints, Drawings & Photographs.

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