This Dog Is Cambridge’s Most Discerning Art Critic

A golden retriever named Ella Fitzgerald has been staring at Julia Powell's paintings for a week straight.

Meet Ella Fitzgerald, a six-year-old golden retriever and a newly acclaimed art critic. She lives in Cambridge with artist Julia Powell, and for a week straight, has been staring at her owner’s paintings—much to the delight of tens of thousands of viewers on Instagram.

“A week ago, I walked into my studio and she was already there,” says Powell, whose work has been featured on friend Mindy Kaling’s sitcom The Mindy Project. “She was looking at this painting really intently.”

Each day since then, Ella Fitzgerald has sat sober and motionless as she surveys works of art. She does not like to be disturbed.

And if she’s interrupted? “She looks back at me with this hilarious look,” says Powell, as if Ella Fitzgerald could simply not be bothered by her presence. 

Powell, who has been busy creating a benefit print for MFA’s Summer Party and working part-time as an attorney, has also been documenting the strange phenomenon on Instagram. Her posts have racked up more than 40,000 views. Naturally, the first time Powell caught Ella Fitzgerald admiring her work, she grabbed her phone and started filming the discerning dog. Powell thought it was an amusing one-time occurrence, until Ella Fitzgerald took a liking to a different painting the next day. After stepping outside to take a photo of a work in progress, she found the golden retriever quietly studying the piece.

In an Instagram post, Powell presented three theories: First, that Ella Fitzgerald is a fan of shades of blues and greens. Second, the canvasses, which are made by the same manufacturer, smell a certain way. Or Ella Fitzgerald is a genius and will soon publish a New York Times best-selling art theory book.

Golden Retriever Art Criticism: Day 3. UPDATE! I did a test and she is clearly drawn to blues and greens and WATER (no interest in red or orange at all and less interest in my birch trees). So all of you water theorists out there stand up! And applaud yourselves. Anyway, after I put on the glasses, she actually looked at the painting for like four solid seconds before yawning (everything is derivative, she seemed to be saying) and then trying to remove the glasses. Which she did, successfully. #oilpainting #dogsarethebest #funnyface #art🎨 #artcritic #contemporaryart #contemporaryartist #contemporarypainting #landscapepainting #modernart #abstractart #waterfall #seascape #impressionism #fineart #painting #oilpaintings #goldenretrieversofinstagram #artist #artforsale #artgallery #hilarious

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In an effort to learn more about her dog’s newfound art appreciation, Powell laid out a series of paintings in her backyard the following day.

“I put like six paintings outside and she had no interest in my birch trees, which are a big part of my work,” says Powell. “She had no interest in anything that was orange or red at all.” Instead, Ella Fitzgerald chose to sit in front of paintings with large swaths of blue in them—mainly water scenes.

Dogs don’t see a lot of color, but they do see blues and yellows,” explains Dr. Terri Bright, director of behavior services at the MSPCA-Angell Animal Medical Center. “And there were a lot of those colors in the paintings.”

Powell, who later plopped some glasses and a scarf on Ella Fitzgerald, suspects the colors are what’s drawing her dog closer to her work. She also wonders if recently returning from a two-week-long trip to Japan—the longest she’s been separated from her dog—affected Ella Fitzgerald and activated the new hobby. Clearly the dog is making up for the lost attention, as she’s garnering plenty of likes on Instagram. “Hahahahah I love these so much,” commented Mindy Kaling on one photo. “This is a New Yorker cartoon.”

It’s not the first time Ella Fitzgerald has dabbled in intellectual pursuits, either. A few months ago, she fell asleep in front of a laptop, presumably after cranking out her newest novel.

“I had kind of created a little persona in my head…that she was a novelist and an art critic because of these funny behaviors,” says Powell. So it’s no surprise that she’s content clad in glasses and a scarf, inspecting paintings for up to a minute at a time.

Powell explains her dog certainly must have important thoughts and feelings when it comes to art. Though when she’s not pondering the intertwining of abstraction and realism, Ella Fitzgerald does normal dog things, and can usually be found sleeping.

Day 4 of The Ella Chronicles. As Ella’s fame grows, so does her taste in clothing. Latest experiment: I put four paintings in my backyard to see which one she might be drawn to. Perhaps it’s no surprise that a gray, blue and green water painting captured her full attention. What totally flummoxed me however was that she CONTINUED TO STARE after I put on the scarf and glasses. When she then turned and looked at me (end of video) like I was some bothersome admirer seeking her advice and approval, I almost dropped the phone I was laughing so much. Then she returned to looking at the painting. I don’t know when this will end but man it’s been fun – Dogs are so wonderfully ridiculous. #oilpainting #artforsale #artist #fineart #art🎨 #art #artcritic #fineart #artistic #hilarious #funnyvideos #landscapepainting #contemporaryart #contemporaryartist #contemporarypainting #modernart #abstractart #impressionism #artgallery #painting 😉#goldenretrieversofinstagram #goldenretriever #dog #dogsarethebest #dogsofinsta #dogsofinstgram

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Check out more of Powell’s artwork at the Abigail Ogilvy Gallery, 460 Harrison Avenue #C7, and at juliaspowell.com.


Madeline Bilis Associate Editor at Boston Magazine @madelinebilis
mbilis@bostonmagazine.com