Agasse was born in Switzerland to a wealthy Huguenot family. After attending the École du Colibri in Geneva, he moved to Paris where he trained under Jacques-Louis David and Horace Vernet, and studied anatomy. Agasse is believed to have first visited England, relatively briefly, in 1790, shortly after meeting the Hon. George Pitt, later 2nd Lord Rivers, in Geneva (see lot 23). The 1790s, however, were a time of disquiet in Geneva and, after stays in Lausanne and Paris, in the autumn of 1800 he was drawn back to London by the artistic vitality and commercial opportunities, as well as the relative political stability, offered by the British capital, and he was to remain there for the rest of his life.
His plan was to establish himself very much as a sporting painter - particularly of racehorses and dogs - and, with both commissions and introductions from Lord Rivers, he met with considerable success. Other patrons included the Earl of Lonsdale, Francis, 2nd Baron Heathfield, Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury, the Hon. Henry Wellesley (younger brother of the Duke of Wellington) and, most significantly, King George IV, for whom Agasse painted The Nubian Giraffe, 1827, and White-tailed Gnus, 1828.
Like his great predecessor George Stubbs, Agasse brought, over and above a fundamental understanding of anatomy and exceptional draughtsmanship, an empathy and originality to his portraits of both people and animals that placed his work on an altogether higher plane than that of his rivals. Like Stubbs, he responded to the demand for paintings of animals by creating works of exquisite beauty and extraordinary sensitivity. Yet in time the broadening of his oeuvre to include genre scenes was as much commercially driven as it was artistic, as the days of charging £300 for a picture (as for Lord Rivers' Stud Farm at Stratfield Saye of 1806-07, New Haven, Yale Center for British Art) receded.
Details of the original commission and Dash's owner are not known, but the subject was no doubt a favourite hound belonging to an aristocrat or member of the landed gentry who patronised Agasse. The device of presenting the animal looking directly at the viewer is one the artist used with great effect (for another example see A Study of Foxhounds, included in Sporting Art in Britain: A Loan Exhibition to celebrate twenty-five years of the British Sporting Art Trust, Christie's, King Street, 2003, no. 38). Caught in a shaft of sunlight against a verdant wooded landscape, Dash is a supremely elegant and insightful work.