The famous painting of boxer dogs playing poker was created by Cassius Marcellus Clay. Born in 1844 in upstate New York, he was named for his father, Kentucky Senator Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, an avid anti-slavery politician.
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Cash, as his friends and family would call him, had never received any formal art training. Though, by the time he was 20, he was a draftsman and frequently had his sketches featured in the local newspaper. A short time later, he had one of his drawings published in Harpers Weekly and subsequently came to be the inventor of “comic foregrounds”, where tourists place their head through a hole in a painting, appearing to have a comical muscular body for photographs.
Coolidge was very found of dogs. So found of them in fact, that when a calendar publisher, the Brown & Bigelow company, hired him to create a humorous series of paintings, 9 of the 16 paintings were of dogs. What made the series humorous was that the dogs were doing things only people could do. This include boozing, smoking pipes and cigars, and playing poker accross a green felt table.
The dogs had took the place of men like attoneys, magistrates, upper-classmen. These were the Great Danes, the Boxers, and the Mastiffs. Females were portrayed by beagles and poodles serving a tray of beverages and were only featured in a few paintings in the series such as “Sitting Up With a Sick Friend” and “A Bold Bluff”.
The persona of men as the “bad dogs” who smoke, yell, drink and have their poker night is reflected in 1947’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Tennessee Williams embellishes sexual politics similar to the scenes of Coolidge’s dogs. Set in New Orleans, it is a world where the men comport suchlike dogs. The main female personas such as Blanche Dubois and her tender sister Stella Kowalski are attempting to put a leash on their men, so to speak.
But contrary to Stanley Kowalski, thrusting his sinewy weight around in the 1st wife-beater T-shirt, Coolidges dogs are emasculated from the same cloth as Harry S Truman, the uxoriously conservative Kansas Town haberdasher who advanced on to become a magistrate and, by the time Streetcar opened, our most main line Chief Executive. The dogs don either flannel suits or handsome leather collars.
A teentsy lager or scotch was took in, his memoirist secerns us, prohibition era notwithstanding. For the overmastering majority of men it had been a pastime rather than a formula to make hard currency, although winning always trumped the hell out of losing. Even the apparent cheating of Coolidges A crony in need, in which a English bulldog passes the ace of clubs under the table to a scrapper holding the 3 additional aces, is more than an ironic relation to the riverboat sharping of old than to anything these dogs would continually recur to while playing against one another.
In 1875, some felt the national game was poker and not baseball. Poker nights were circled on the calendar of men all across the nation. Several years later, the United States Printing Company, had put together the first set of consistent rules for the game and these were sent to periodicals and cardclubs everywhere.