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Julie Brenan

‘Just Giants’ Cover Artist and Book Illustrator

The cover art and chapter illustrations for 'Just Giants" were actually completed in 1993. I was planning a book devoted to the Giant Schnauzer at the time and discovered Julie Brenan while we were living in Germany. Twenty-five plus years later, the book is finally coming to fruition. Thankfully Julie's art is as
significant and remarkable today as it was then.

 

Background

Renowned canine artist, Julie Brenan, painted the Crufts Supreme Champions for almost twenty years, which was quite an achievement for someone without formal art training. According to Julie, she was brought up in a doggy world and always carried a sketch pad, although, painting was not encouraged by her family.

The only child of Canadian Vaudeville entertainer Wally Brenan, her parents ran a thriving dog accessory business and expected her to join them when she left school. But determined to become a professional artist, Julie left home when she was sixteen and found a job in a drawing office. Then she took a Technical Illustration course at an art college. "The discipline I learned was invaluable," says Julie. "It's all very well painting animals, but you sometimes need to do something recognizable in the background, too."

For years Julie subsidized her painting by working as a char and pub sign painter. Then in the mid-1970s, she decided to specialize in the subject that gave her the most pleasure - dog portraitures.

Commissions soon started to trickle in and, as her work became known the trickle developed into a steady flow. Her career reached a turning point in 1979, when she painted her first Crufts Supreme Champion.

"I thought it would be a feather in my cap if I painted the prestigious Crufts winner, so I plucked up courage and contacted the sponsors, Pedigree Pet Foods, who agreed to commission me." She continued to paint the Crufts winners for the next 18 years. Even if she hadn't been commissioned Julie says she would have continued because it was such a pleasure.

When asked if she had a favorite Crufts Champion, "It is difficult to choose a favorite because each animal was so special." According to Julie, she particularly remembers the first, a beautiful black retriever called Brett. "I loved him because he was also a Field Trial Champion and not just a pretty face.

"The 1989 winner, a Bearded Collie called Cassie, is another favorite. I painted her five or six times and she was very special to me. There was such a beautiful little soul in that dog."

In 1985, she was commissioned by Battersea Dogs Home to paint a dog for auction to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Home. Unable to choose just one dog, Julie included six appealing strays.

Several years later, Liberty of London put on an exhibition of her work. Fifty of the 150 paintings on display were of the Battersea dogs, and all the proceeds from this exhibition were donated to the Home.

During the 1980s, Julie was invited to Kensington Palace to paint Prince Michael of Kent with his Labrador, "Sponge".

To celebrate the Charter of Northampton, Julie was asked to paint Diana, the Princess of Wales, receiving the Freedom of Northampton. This was commissioned by the St. John Ambulance Brigade and was subsequently published as a limited edition print.

One of Julie's most memorable days was spent at the home of explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes. He commissioned her to paint Bothy, the Jack Russell who accompanied him on the 1979-1982 Transglobe Expedition - the only dog to have put paws on both North and South Poles. According to Julie, "Bothy was a tremendous character, full of energy and enthusiasm so I drew a montage of him to show what a fun dog he was."

The 1990s saw Julie establish herself as a major international artist. Her first overseas exhibition was in Santa Fe, New Mexico with a further exhibition at the Dog Museum in St. Louis, Missouri in 1990.

The same year brought another American commission, this time from Kentucky, to portray"Forego", the Kentucky thoroughbred: record six times winner of the Gold Eclipse award. Also during the 1990s, Julie was invited to exhibit at the Royal Dog Show in Toronto, at the Westminster Dog Show in Madison Square Garden, New York, and at the World Dog Show in Helsinki.

Julie describes her work as "tending more towards the imaginative - the type of painting that suggests a story. I like to paint pictures and not just photogenic representations, so I try to spend a couple of days living with the family to observe their relationship with the animal" she explains. "I take lots of photos, make color notes and do masses of sketches. Then I submit a detailed drawing, which the family keeps for a few weeks and, if they feel comfortable with it, I paint the final picture.

In early 2001, Julie moved to rural Carmarthenshire in Wales and her work continues to be in great demand.

 

Julie and the Giant Schnauzer

In the early 1990s, we were living in Germany. Because I was already planning a book and knew there were some extraordinary canine artists in England, I got in touch with Clifford Derwent.

He was a member of the British Kennel Club and was the father of the Giant Schnauzer in Great Britain. When I asked if he could recommend a particular canine artist, he introduced me to Julie Brenan and assured me that she was the best.

Julie actually came to Wiesbaden, for a visit and she and I took a hair-raising tour of Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, meeting and photographing the very best Giants on the continent.

Our most remarkable visit started in Stolberg, Germany, at the lovely home of the Steegs and their famous World Champion Assan von Rois, who remains one of my all time favorite Giants.

As we drove up, a bitch had just arrived to be bred. They had another in-tact male, younger than Assan, but definitely an adult. When Assan completed his task and the bitch left, he walked right back into the living room and proceeded to play ball with the other male. Mr. Steeg would throw the ball up into the balcony and both dogs would dash up the stairs and retrieve the ball. Two 90 pound plus dogs racing around, up and down the stairs and through that lovely living room, was fairly exciting.

But it got better: I remember vividly how small and very pale Julie looked as we roared along at over 100 MPH in the back of the Steegs' very big Mercedes, all the way from Stolberg-Breinig, to Belgium, to meet Mr. and Mrs. Meulenaere of Van de Havenstad fame. The Steegs, were good friends of the Meulenaeres. I think we were both stunned when we finally arrived.

There were dogs to be photographed and poor Julie was behind the camera when the Meulenaeres and the Steegs banged on pots and jumped out from behind bushes and walls to alert the dogs for Julie. Unfortunately Julie had no idea when they planned to bang or jump and in the old days of the 35 mm, non-automatic cameras, photography was much more difficult. They would yell, "Stupid Woman!" in German when she failed to snap at the right moment. While Julie didn't understand
German, I'm sure she got the gist. I was just glad they weren't shouting at me.

We were rewarded however with a three star dinner served in a beautiful dining room. The finale, after the dessert, was a parade of 8-week-old Giant puppies right down the center of the dining room table, in amongst the candles, dishes and cutlery. I will never forget that dinner.

And I will never forget Julie Brenan - a true professional, talented, canine artist and a good sport! From that wild week of photographing Giants across Europe, Julie came up with 18 color and 20 pencil drawings and sketches, some of which appear in this book. Her wonderful oil painting, entitled Giant Six Pack, appears on the cover and went on to become a limited edition of 250 signed and numbered prints, the first 100 with Julie's own original remarks.