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Hey, Matt:

I've always wondered about that painting of the dogs playing poker. Was that painted as a joke or was the artist serious when he did it? Where did that thing come from?

-- Art Appreciation, Carlsbad

Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (1844-1937) is the New York genius behind the dog paintings (there are at least eight versions of them). Don't know when he found the time. He founded a bank; published a newspaper; ran a drug store; painted signs; drew caricatures; and invented those painted boards with the faces cut out so people at amusement parks could stand behind them, stick their heads through, and have their pictures taken as a muscle man or a bathing beauty. In the 1920s, he hit on the idea of painting dogs in human situations -- riding trains, playing pool, playing cards. A printing company reproduced them as posters and calendars for advertising giveaways. They were a smash hit. Even bigger than the comic opera Coolidge wrote about a plague of mosquitoes in New Jersey. We're still trying to track down the details of that artistic endeavor.

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