Richard Ansdell, Early Collies in Art

Collies herding sheep in Ansdell painting

When discussing early paintings of Collies the name most often heard is Edwin Henry Landseer, yet looking through the examples of his work online he doesn’t really paint too many Collies and they are usually obscured or in the background. The lesser known contemporary of Landseer’s who really painted the Collie is Richard Ansdell.

Ansdell spent a great deal of time in the Highlands of Scotland in the decades prior to the founding of The Kennel Club and the beginning of the Collies slow evolution into the modern Rough Collie and as such the study of his paintings is a great tool in determining what the true Highland Collie looked like before it began to change to meet the whims of fanciers. Ansdell built a home in the Highlands on Loch Laggan where he spent time painting and studying the rural lifestyle that was rapidly disappearing, so we know that he definitely had opportunity to observe the native Collies of the Scottish Highlands.

Richard Ansdell was born in 1815 in Liverpool and started his career as a painter in earnest in 1835, he died in 1885. Charles Wheeler, writing in “The Dog Book” published in 1906 says “About the year 1860 classes were first provided for sheep dogs at the Birmingham Show, and at the show in 1863 the entries numbered six only. However, the entries steadily increased until they reached as many as forty-five at the show held in Birmingham in 1874, and it was about this era that breeding for show points started in earnest” This puts the majority of Ansdell’s Collie paintings long before “breeding for show points” began.

There are really a wide range of looks in Ansdell’s Collies, black and tan, tri-color, even sable and even some more unusual color patterns. The most common look is a tri-color with irish-white markings that looks like Sojourner’s Jacob, a modern Scotch Collie.

Ansdell Collie compared to Sojourner's Jacob
Ansdell Collie compared to Sojourner's Jacob

A lot is made of the Collie’s head and it’s evolution over the years. In the next comparison I have taken several show Collies from the turn of the 20th century and compared their heads to Ansdell’s Collies. In my eyes there is not that much change for over 30 years of show breeding. I see that same pointed, fox-like muzzle, although I would say there seems to be a definite lessening of the stop.

Richard Ansdell’s paintings are a real treasure, some of the finest material available for studying the pre-dog show Collie, and because he spent real time on the ground in the Scottish Highlands we can trust his depictions as accurate.

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  1. I love your site but usually don’t find the time to comment. But I’ve been meaning to comment somewhere, sometime about your exclusion of the color “black & tan” from a true collie color. This blog entry of yours brings up the one of my bits of evidence for the historic existence of black and tan collie.

    Yeah, yeah, I know Stodghill took the whole B&T color and ran with it (and ran roughshod over it too) but that doesn’t mean that the color wasn’t part of the highland spectrum. Many early show collies were B&T (a sample is here: but like merle it was considered too common. Merle survived this show world snobbery but B&T didn’t.

    In general I love your research but you often show the same bias the early collie fanciers did – a sable coat, perky ears, and a pretty face and “it’s a collie!” . If Dunrovin Shep had been all white or all black or black and tan you wouldn’t give him the time of day…

  2. Hi Jan

    You might be right about DOS, I do personally favor sable and white, I just think it’s prettier, but there’s no accounting for taste. Yet Sojourner’s Jacob gets his share of good press and he was tri-color. There is certainly plenty of evidence that black and tan was not only an original collie color, but probably the most common color back in the day. We had a conversation in my family just in the past week about black and tan, why it has disappeared and how it could be brought back.

    Check out these 2 dogs

    The first one is a half-sibling of DOS and the second is a dog I photographed at Strunk’s house in September. So I would say there is still hope for B&T even outside the ES breed.

  3. On second thought, the second dog above is probably a dark shaded sable, but the first one looks black and tan to me, or am I wrong?

  4. I think it also might look like there is a because artists of the era seem to prefer painting the sable dogs. I’ve also been collecting old images of these dogs, and in the paintings it seems to be a clearly preferred coloring, at least in my eyes.

    I thought I’d also add that Andsell’s “Highland Keepers Daughter”
    has a lovely image of a collie that looks near identical to our foundation bitch “Jenny”. I found the image so iconic I even chose it as part of my business logo for my pet care business. The highlander’s collie stands on a hill in the background, overlooking the daughter feeding the all-important hunting dogs a hot meal. I adore his stylized depictions of everyday life in the Scottish Highlands of the time.

  5. Hello!

    Today I have finished reading all articles on this website. Well, good luck for you in bringing back these Old Timers. They`re very interesting and amazing dogs. I`m very sorry that they almost extinct. I wish you a lot of luck, strength and everything else you need to rebirth this noble breed. I`m looking forward for next articles I could read and learn new things:)


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