A French fancy

Country Life Every Week - - My Favourite Painting John Burningham -

• De­spite its name, the Frenchie doesn’t only owe its ex­is­tence to ded­i­cated breed­ers in France. In the past, per­haps un­sur­pris­ingly, French breed­ers hotly con­tested the role the Bri­tish played in the dog’s ori­gin, but it’s now gen­er­ally ac­cepted that it’s a de­scen­dant of the English bull­dog, a breed com­monly used for bull bait­ing in 18th- and early-19th-cen­tury Eng­land

• When the sport was out­lawed in 1835, the num­ber of bull­dogs de­clined, be­fore a group of per­sis­tent fanciers started to breed a smaller type for rat­ting and for com­pan­ion­ship

• This diminu­tive bull­dog quickly be­came pop­u­lar in Not­ting­ham, par­tic­u­larly among lace­mak­ers and, when those crafts­men be­came ca­su­al­ties of the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion, they mi­grated to France with their lit­tle bull­dogs in tow

• It wasn’t long be­fore the charm­ing ca­nines cap­tured the hearts of lo­cals, be­ing first favoured by street traders and cour­te­sans—toulouse-lautrec de­picted a French bull­dog, Bouboule, at the Moulin Rouge in sev­eral works —be­fore quickly be­com­ing a sta­tus sym­bol for the up­per classes and wealthy Amer­i­cans trav­el­ling to Paris in the late 1800s

• The French bull­dog has al­ways had a cer­tain je ne sais quoi that ap­peals to the rich and fa­mous. Yves Saint Lau­rent owned four, D. H. Lawrence wrote po­etry about his ‘bat eared dog’, Bib­bles, and Nancy Mit­ford had three, pre­sum­ably in­spir­ing Plon-plon, the lit­tle French dog in The Pur­suit of Love. The breed even found favour with Rus­sian roy­alty—or­tipo, the mis­chievous Frenchie be­long­ing to Grand Duchess Ta­tiana Ro­manov, daugh­ter of Tsar Ni­cholas II, i s men­tioned fre­quently and fondly in the fam­ily di­aries

• One of the vic­tims of the Titanic sink­ing was Gamin de Py­combe, a cham­pion French bull­dog be­long­ing to Robert Daniel, who bought the dog in Eng­land for £150, a huge price at the time—there’s a brief and poignant glimpse of a Frenchie board­ing the ship in the 1997 film

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