Tabloid Art History: Dogs—Sorry, Republicans—Playing Poker
A painting hanging in the White House bears a striking resemblance to C.M. Coolidge’s “Dogs Playing Poker.”
"The Republican Club" by Andy Thomas.
When noted art historian Bart Simpson introduces viewers to the final painting that makes up Treehouse of Horror IV’s framing device, he describes the work as the “most terrifying painting” in the gallery, and notes that “to even gaze upon it is to go mad.“ The painting to which he refers is not one of raw and unsettling works of Francis Bacon, nor one of Hieronymus Bosch’s disturbing visions of Hell—but one of the 18 paintings in Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s 1903 series Dogs Playing Poker.
A mere glance at the image is enough to send Bart’s dad, Homer, insane, and I must admit to having a similar reaction upon being introduced to Andy Thomas’s 2018 work, The Republican Club, which depicts incumbent president Trump with several former Republican presidents (I’ll leave for another day the discussion of Lincoln’s inclusion in the Republican “Club” considering the huge amount of change the party has undergone since his tenure). According to a Daily Beast report, the painting was given to Trump by California congressman Darrell Issa, and Trump was so pleased with his "slimmed-down" appearance in the portrait that he personally called the artist to compliment his work.
From the moment that the work was spotted hanging on a White House wall during a 60 Minutes segment that aired earlier this week, the internet began to compare it to Coolidge’s gambling canines. But what is it about the piece that so reminds us of these poker-playing pups? The composition of the subjects, obviously. The odd and kitschy nature of both works, certainly. But one wonders if it is also a matter of the work’s certain unsettling quality. Nixon (seen to the right of Trump) is so well-known as an avatar for wrongdoing that he warranted a cameo as the Devil’s servant in the previously referenced episode of The Simpsons—but the sight of him consorting with Trump and visages of other Republican terrors, well, that’s enough to give anyone nightmares. We can console ourselves that Coolidge’s dogs are nothing but a mere figment of his imagination. And while Thomas’s exact scenario may be similarly imaginary, the Republican Party and its actions, unfortunately, carry on being nightmarishly real.