Dominic Massa / Eyewitness News
Internationally-renowned artist George Rodrigue, the Louisiana native best known for his Blue Dog creation but also masterpieces which depicted the color and characters of his beloved home state, died Saturday in Houston after battling cancer. He was 69.
Rodrigue’s family confirmed his death through a statement late Saturday evening.
“George was our loving husband, father and friend,” it reads. “George Rodrigue was also a gifted artist who set out to paint Louisiana as he knew it by visually interpreting the landscape and the rich history of the Cajun people. Later in his career his Blue Dog paintings captured hearts and minds around the world.
“While we mourn the loss of a great man, we also celebrate his rich life and legacy. George will remain a presence in the hearts of the people who got to know him and his work will continue to inspire for generations to come."
In an October 2013 article for New Orleans Magazine, George and Wendy Rodrigue discussed the health battle he had faced in recent years. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in 2012, with tumors that spread throughout his body.
Rodrigue suspected that the disease might be traced back to his early career when he sprayed canvases with a toxic varnish inside an unventilated studio. His wife, Wendy, chronicled their journey in a blog and book.
Born in New Iberia, Louisiana, George Rodrigue catapaulted to international fame in the 1990s with his Blue Dog paintings, based on the Cajun legend called the loup garou. The ghostly blue, yellow-eyed and white-nosed dog depicted in the scenes, called Tiffany, was made popular in a series of paintings that also became Absolut Vodka ads, gaining even more attention. It was also used by Xerox in national ad campaigns and graced several New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival posters, featuring Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt.
But Rodrigue’s career began well before the Blue Dog phase. He began painting at the age of three while bedridden with polio. He launched a professional career as far back as the 1960s, when his Louisiana landscapes and depictions of outdoor family gatherings and scenes of southwest Louisiana in the 19th and early 20th century. His works depicted the famous Longfellow heroine “Evangeline,” as well as other Cajun folk tales and Louisiana legends.
His art studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette followed by the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California gave him a foundation that spawned one of the greatest success stories in southern art.
As a testament to his importance and the love for him in his home state, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a longtime friend, both issued statements soon after the news was announced.
“We are saddened to learn of the death of our dear friend George Rodrigue and we offer our deepest sympathies to his wife Wendy and his sons Jacques and Andre,” Blanco said.
“Louisiana lost a magnificent artist who loved and chronicled the lives of our people. He gained national and international attention when he painted his now very famous Blue Dog,” she said, adding that Rodrigue was a friend dating back to the years Gov. Blanco’s husband taught Rodrigue in high school in New Iberia.
“His legacy is reflected in the inherent beauty and messages of his unique body of work. We will miss him dearly.”
Jindal called Rodrigue one of Louisiana’s favorite sons.
“His work as an artist is iconic and uniquely Louisiana. George’s Blue Dog not only became symbolic of his work, but it became a symbol for Louisiana. This earned him the ability to paint the likes of world leaders including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton,” the governor’s statement said
“His work made him an ambassador for our state and a renowned artist, but he never forgot his Louisiana roots. Indeed, there are countless stories and examples of his charity work to help the people of Louisiana. Without question, his paintings will live on, but his legacy will be much more than paint on a canvas.”
Rodrigue is the subject of twelve books, published nationally and internationally, on his art, as well as numerous museum exhibitions.
In 2009, Rodrigue, who had a second home and gallery in Carmel, California as well as galleries in New Orleans and Lafayette, established the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, a non-profit organization which advocates the importance of the visual arts in the development of young people through scholarships, donations of art supplies and more. It has raised more than $2.5 million benefitting post-Katrina New Orleans through sales of his relief prints. Rodrigue was very active in Hurricane Katrina and Rita relief efforts after the 2005 storms.
He is survived by his wife and two sons. Funeral arrangements are pending. The family statement said more details would be released Monday.