Anyone familiar with this website will know that it is partial to Pugs. It should not be surprising, therefore, that when considering an article on dogs immortalized by all kinds of artists throughout history this would be the first breed to be considered.
For centuries Pugs, perhaps more than any other sort of canine, have been celebrated in a wide spectrum of art. Indeed, when it comes to one type of dog inspiring devotion, Pugs must certainly lead the pack. What is it about these snoring, snorting, sometimes farting creatures that inspires such enthusiasm?
Maybe a peek at how they have been depicted will hint at an answer.
For many, William Hogarth, the eighteenth-century English painter and satirist is the first name that comes to mind when asked to name an artist associated with Pugs. Hogarth, regarded as one of the great geniuses of his world and the man who has been credited with pioneering western sequential art, was a devoted owner of a series of these unique dogs. It is even reported that in 1730 he lost one of his first Pugs and took out the following advertisement in The Craftsman (December 5, 1730):
“From the Broad Cloth Warehouse, in the Little Piazza, Covent Garden, a light-
colored Dutch DOIG, with black Muzzle, and answers to the name of Pugg.
Whoever has found him, and will bring him to Mr. Hogarth, at the said place, shall
have half a Guinea reward.”
That was apparently quite a bit of money then, but writer James Gill remarked in Radio Times, “There’s nothing unusual about that; losing a pet can be traumatic. But Hogarth’s Pugs were more than mere companions. Frequently used as a sly comic device in his prints and paintings, they provide a vital key to his life’s work.”
Following up on that thesis, the BBC recently broadcast a program that featured ceramics expert Lars Tharp and took viewers on a visit to Hogarth’s world to show how the painter’s devotion to the breed played a pivotal role in his life.
In her charming and generously illustrated book Reigning Cats and Dogs, historian Katharine MacDonogh, an Oxford alumna who has written for a cross section of well-regarded publications, has researched a wide variety of historical documents chronicling the extraordinary attachment of regal owners to their pets. She explains in detail the psychological role played by these pampered creatures in the artificial and often isolated life at court.
Just consider how many portraits of aristocrats depict the sitter with the particular Pug who inspired trust and much affection. Among them: Princess Ekaterina Dmitrievna Golitsyna who was painted by Louis-Michel van Loo in 1759; the Marchioness of Pontejos depicted by Goya around 1786; Luisa Maria Amelia Teresa of Naples and Sicily, portrayed by Joseph Dorffmeister in 1797. There is also a little Pug peeking around the corner in Nicolas de Largillière’s painting of Louis XIV and his Heirs, painted around 1710.
Reigning Cats and Dogs goes into detail chronicling the historical association with the House of Nassau-Orange since William the Silent (1533–84) took up arms against the Spanish and right up until William III introduced them into England in 1688.
One amusing passage from the book worth quoting illustrates how in the mid-twentieth century the breed was used in the ongoing battle between Queen Mother Elizabeth and the Duchess of Windsor and how naming a Pug was inspired by a certain degree of bitchiness:
“[Pugs] fell out of favor with the British monarchy in the twentieth century but recovered quasi-royal status in the 1950s when adopted as the preferred breed of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, who owned nine altogether. Their cult of the Pug was taken to extremes: not only did their mansion contain innumerable Meissen figurines and artifacts, but the Duke applied his prodigious talent for gross point to the embroidery of their portraits onto cushions. . . . When the crisis provoked by Princess Margaret’s desire to marry a divorced commoner was at its height: the Duchess of Windsor named one of her Pugs Peter Townsend [the name of the divorced commoner].”
No one could ever question, however, that the Windsors really loved their Pugs and that this love was certainly mutual. When the duke died in May 1972, his remaining pug, James, reportedly pined until he himself eventually died of a broken heart. And later, when the former Wallis Simpson suffered a bad fall, it was one of her beloved Pugs who alerted the servants.
Pugs continue to inspire in more recent times.
At the height of his reign as a fashion nobleman, Valentino was seldom without his Pugs—at one point he had six. In the 2009 documentary biopic Valentino: The Last Emperor, the celebrated couturier famously proclaimed: “I don’t care about the collection. My dogs are more important.”
The breed has also inspired generations of photographers.
Alice Austen, the pioneering female practitioner of the art who chronicled New York life at the turn of the twentieth century sometimes included her Pug, Punch, in her work. In recognition of this, the Pug Dog Club of Greater New York hosts an annual celebration at the Alice Austen House in Staten Island.
The popular Seattle-based photographer Jeremy Veach and his Pug Norm, who is featured in much of Veach’s work, were flatteringly profiled in the UK’s Daily Mail.
My own favorite of the contemporary photographers who have used Pugs in their work is the amazingly creative New Mexico-based Chip Simons. His website describes him as “an influential oddity, the dog guy, unconventional, surreal, comedic, ironic, satiric . . .” All of which is true. Chip photographed my first Pug, Mame, in the early 80s.
The whimsical charms of the breed have not escaped the eyes of many illustrators and cartoonists either.
Hilary Knight included a splendid Pug in his illustrations for Kay Thompson’s Eloise books, which first came out in the 1950s. In the early 80s Mary De Camp (who died in 2010) published two very amusing collections of her spot-on drawings: Full Frontal Pug and Seize That Pug. And Victoria Roberts, whose work appears in the New Yorker, often includes a Pug in the drawing and there are several cavorting through her illustrated novel, After the Fall.
My favorite of the current cartoonists who celebrates Pugs is Mark Wood. His Humphrey, the “Lovable Little Pug,” is something of an internet sensation and the cartoonist and his dog were profiled in an earlier edition of Orange and Magenta (Issue 13, July 26, 2013). Clearly Humphrey has inspired a particular direction in Mark’s career and it seems that these two are joined at the hip. One of my most treasured possessions is a drawing he created of Humphrey and my own beloved Jane all snuggled up.
That scene has actually not occurred yet, but perhaps, if we’re all lucky, it will in the future.