Alexander and Diogenes, 1848
Oil on canvas
Landseer’s dogs act out the ancient story of Alexander’s encounter with Diogenes. The Emperor offered to give the philosopher any favour he asked; Diogenes asked merely that Alexander would stand aside and stop blocking the sunlight. This is one of the most anthropomorphic and lighthearted of Landseer’s compositions. A photograph of it (see below) was found among Darwin’s collection of images relating to his Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, a startling discovery. Correspondence with Riviere makes it clear that Darwin seriously considered using the head of Landseer’s 'Alexander' as a model for the expression of an aggressive dog. This was despite the fact that its knitted brow is completely unnatural for the animal. For whatever reason, Landseer’s image was not used in the end. Nevertheless, the episode reveals a fascinating link between popular notions of animal psychology and Darwin’s conviction that human mentality stemmed from that of animal ancestors.
Tate, London. Bequeathed by Jacob Bell, 1859