Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Life and Sleeping Partners of Cecil Aldin (1870 – 1935)

The chances of Cecil Aldin opting to earn a living as anything OTHER than an artist could be categorized as ‘slim to non-existent’.

His father had been a keen amateur artist and Cecil himself started drawing as a child. He initially studied under Albert Moore, then at the National Art Training School (which later became the Royal College of Art) before spending a summer with the renowned animal artist Frank Calderon.

The years of study may have refined his technique and deepened his understanding of his craft, but his talent was innate and informed by his great affinity with animals – most especially dogs. He drew from life and his ability to catch the essence of an animal in a rapid sketch, (to be refined later at his leisure) was almost uncanny.

As an enthusiastic twenty-something, his determination to make his way as an artist led to him inundating The Illustrated London News with his work. His persistence paid off, and by the turn of the century his sporting prints and book illustrations had won him a substantial public following – which increased after an exhibition in Paris in 1909. Marriage and two children resulted in the addition of nursery pictures to his rapidly growing repertoire.

During the First World War – too old for active service – he was major in charge of the remount depot at Calcot near Reading, a task which must have grieved the animal-loving man deeply because it involved dealing with the horses that were being sent out to almost certain death on the Western Front. In 1917, he lost his only son in the action on Vimy Ridge.

After the war he turned his attention once again to the perennially popular hunting scenes, but in addition he also produced a superb set of nostalgic prints of old coaching inns, cathedrals and manor houses, many of which continue to be reproduced on endless Christmas and greetings cards.

It is, however, for his love affair with dogs that Cecil Aldin is best remembered today. Towards the end of his life, increasingly troubled by arthritis, he concentrated on them almost exclusively, sketching his own (whom he called ‘The Professionals’) and those of visitors (‘The Amateurs’) over and over again. He would let them loose in the 60 foot long ex-army barracks that was his studio and wait patiently – often for hours on end – for them to settle in the right pose.

An early best seller was A Dog Day in 1902. Aldin provided the illustrations for the whimsical narrative of Walter Emanuel. The little book – much reprinted – tells the story of one enterprising terrier’s typical day in an Edwardian household.

5.15: Awakened by a bad attack of eczema.

5.20 to 5.30: Slept again.

5.30: Awakened again by eczema. Caught one.

His favourite model was his ebullient bull terrier Cracker who – thanks to dozens of magazine and newspaper illustrations plus a series of hugely popular books – became one of the most famous dogs in the world. Cracker was almost pure white, with a jaunty black patch above one eye, giving him a rakish appearance which he fully lived up to. His straight man was a simply enormous Irish Wolfhound called Micky, usually to be found lounging full length on an old sofa. As is often the case with very large dogs, Micky was phenomenally good natured and literally allowed Cracker to walk all over him.

One of Aldin’s most successful books was Sleeping Partners, which consisted of nothing more than 20 pastel studies of Cracker’s attempts to claim some of the sofa for himself. To thumb through it is to understand why it was said that Aldin captured the very soul of a dog.

When his health began to decline, Aldin and his wife Rita moved to Majorca, taking Cracker and Micky with them. There, he continued to produce books and features about them for The Illustrated London News, the New York Times and The Sketch. The two dogs were so popular they even received their own fan mail.

Unfortunately, Micky never really acclimatized to his new surroundings. He died from heart failure just a year after the move to Majorca.

In January 1935 while Aldin was away on a visit to London, Cracker – back home in Majorca – started to howl in a most extraordinary and unprecedented fashion. It was several hours later that the news reached Rita Aldin that her husband had died from a heart attack in the London Clinic. She could not ascribe the terrier’s behaviour to anything other than a reaction to the severing of a psychic link between the man and the dog.

Following Aldin’s death Rita wanted to return to England, but that would have entailed putting the 10 year old Cracker into quarantine. She wouldn’t desert him, and so she stayed in Majorca with him until his death in 1937. Such was his fame that he received his own obituary notice in The Times:

Cracker, the bull terrier, for many years the beloved companion and favourite model of the late Cecil Aldin, died July 31st, Mallorca. Deeply mourned.

—:oOo:—

The books that Cecil Aldin illustrated are too numerous to list in their totality, and many are now out of print (and changing hands for small fortunes) – but the ‘classics’ are reprinted and still readily available:

Sleeping Partners A Dog DayPuppy Dogs’ Tales

Cecil Aldin’s long out of print autobiography, Time I Was Dead: Pages from My Autobiography (1934) is now a collectible, currently selling for three figures – as does Roy Heron’s 1981 biography Cecil Aldin, the Story of a Sporting Artist (which is really ironic considering that it when it was published, it was quickly remaindered).

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18 comments on “The Life and Sleeping Partners of Cecil Aldin (1870 – 1935)

  1. marygm
    May 16, 2008

    Lovely piece, Moira. There’s something quietly moving about it.
    And what a lovely photo at the beginning.

  2. Jackie
    May 16, 2008

    I’ve been waiting all week for this one and it didn’t disappoint. In my eagerness, I did a Google search for Aldin’s work, which isn’t well known in America and was impressed by his various styles and output. Of course, I like his dogs the best. Thanks for telling us the story of Micky and Cracker, what characters! And thanks for posting so many fine examples of Aldin’s work. I really enjoyed this review!

  3. rosyb
    May 17, 2008

    All those hunting and coaching scenes – looks like he wasn’t really my kind of artist…until you get to those dog sketches on the sofa. Real and without pomp or tweeness. The real essence of “dog”.

  4. Lisa
    May 22, 2008

    ‘The real essence of “dog”‘ Exactly what I thought.

    “Cracker – back home in Majorca – started to howl in a most extraordinary and unprecedented fashion. It was several hours later that the news reached Rita Aldin that her husband had died from a heart attack in the London Clinic. She could not ascribe the terrier’s behaviour to anything other than a reaction to the severing of a psychic link between the man and the dog.”

    That’s incredible. There is something very special in the link between people and dogs. I’ve been wondering about this myself. I remember reading a study years ago about a supposedly psychic link between dog and owner. My own dog is addicted to frisbee catching and retrieving, but the second I think, Right, time for frisbee to be put away, he sits down and gives me the shit-eye (excusing my French). Can’t fathom how he knows. Maybe he reads my expression.

    Great review, Moira. Lovely to have some more non-fiction.

  5. Joann
    May 27, 2008

    What a lovely piece. I can never decide which of his styles I like best but being a dog artist myself I really appreciate the sense of character he gives his dogs, and what a lovely lady his wife must have been -to stay for the sake of Cracker…

  6. Skip
    May 28, 2008

    Thanks for the piece, Moira,

    I’ve been collecting Aldin – books, prints, originals, ephemera – for about 15 years, I do regret is that I wasn’t able to meet this exceptionally nice guy.

  7. Peter Hans Göpfert
    October 18, 2008

    Aldin, as an admirable friend of dogs, must also have loved Scotties. i am a fan of scottish terriers, my actual one is named simon and 1 year old on october 21st, the last one, Sarotti was called after a chocolate firm. i read with amusement “lost, strolled…”. I have a little lithograph of a scotch terrier by aldin and hope to find his print “weight will tell” (bull terrier with scottie) before i die… PHG

  8. Dandre
    December 17, 2008

    This Is Pretty Much The Best SiteDo You Have Other Sites?

  9. james lewis
    December 27, 2008

    lewisjb@embarqmail.com
    I also like CICEL ALDIN ………I HAVE BEEN TRYING FOR THE LONGEST TIME TO FINE OR SOME ONE TO HELP ME fine the original water coler or ;THT BREAK AT THE THREE PIGEONS; thanks-james

  10. Skip
    October 19, 2009

    Thanks so very much for your Aldin bio.

    I’ve been collecting him for over ten tears – and becoming increasingly saddened by the thought of not being able to meet this warm, sensitive, terribly talented guy.

    You did a fine job of describing the man for whom I’ve gained a great affection.

    Thank you,

    Skip

    By the way, I’ve been in touch with Roy Heron and have suggested we work together on an updated biblio – none available are complete. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem interested.

  11. sandi
    November 22, 2009

    I’ve just been to a small but beautiful exhibition of Cecil’s work in Burford and fallen under the spell!
    Beautiful detailed pieces that makes me want to pick up my pastels and get busy! The more I read the more I want so from today I shall be looking for his illustraited books – guess whats on my Christmas list!

  12. devoy
    November 17, 2010

    hi i just wanted to let peter no that i have the weight will tell print

  13. sue
    September 12, 2011

    sue

    have some original Cecil Aldin Inns, if interested, please get in touch. Thanks

  14. Terry Dilcher
    May 2, 2012

    Moving for WV to OR getting rid of all items of value. Have a cromolithagraph made by Cecil Aldin. Worm wood frame included.Measures 42ins x 19inches. Liverpool Coach, 7 passengers,four horses, and a dog running along side. In good condition. Buyer pays shipping cost.To highest bidder.7/31/12 Never been auctioned. Pasted down thru family.wvtbd@aol.com

  15. Andrew Conway
    July 21, 2012

    I have an original signed etching by Cecil Aldin called “A Most Popular Gentleman” of a black Cocker Spaniel. It is still in the original mount and frame and all in perfect condition. It is one of only 100 impressions produced. Anybody interested? please get in touch.

  16. Angela
    November 15, 2012

    Hi do you still have your Cecil Aldin etching? I would be interested if you do. I have two myself and I think they look so cute on my wall. Would like to add another.

  17. Pingback: The Life and Sleeping Partners of Cecil Aldin: Dog Days | Micheline's Blog

  18. Jennifer Seager
    September 21, 2013

    My Mother-in-Law has the book ‘A Dog Day’ by Walter Emanuel and pictures by Cecil Aldin. There are 28 signed prints and the prints are all in charcoal. The book, itself, is very old and is believed to be a 1st edition. The cover of the book is a browny colour. She would like to sell this book, but I cannot find a value for it. I would like to post it on eBay for her. Can anyone help with a valuation, or anyone interested in buying it. Thanks Jenny.

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This entry was posted on May 16, 2008 by in Entries by Moira, Non-fiction: Humour, Non-fiction:art and tagged , , , , , .

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Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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