As a favorite of royalty and commoner alike, it's not surprising that the pug has been immortalized in various forms of media through the centuries. He has appeared in numerous works of art, from paintings to modern photography. In addition, the pug has played starring and supporting roles on the silver screen and romped through the pages of literature.
Before the advent of photography, people had portraits painted of their loved ones or their prized possessions, including dogs. A painting of a dog could indicate much more than that, however. During the turbulent late seventeenth century, when Protestants and Catholics battled over who would control the British throne, a pug in a portrait served as subtle social commentary, symbolizing that the person portrayed was a supporter of William III over the deposed Catholic monarch James II.
Many well-known personalities have loved pugs, including Winston Churchill; fashion designer Valentino; and entertainment stars Paula Abdul, Jenna Elfman, Billy Joel, Charlie Sheen, and Denise Richards. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor pandered to their pugs in a way that most pugs can only dream of. Their dogs traveled the world with them and had their own entourage, including a chef and a poop scooper.
Some dogs, of course, appeared in paintings because of their proximity to artist or subject. The British artist William Hogarth was a noted pug lover. Among his works is a self-portrait — The Painter and His Pug — that included his pug, Trump. Forty years later, Spanish court painter Francisco de Goya immortalized the Marquesa de Pontejos and her pug. Through such works of art, we can see not only the pug's role as a companion but also the evolution of the modern pug. Hogarth's dog looks more like a white bulldog than the pug we know today, while the Marquesa's dog looks more like a modern pug.
Early nineteenth-century pug portraits include an engraving from Philip Reinagle's The Sportsman's Cabinet, dated 1803, and an oil portrait entitled Pug in a Landscape, artist unknown, dated 1808. The pugs in these works appear larger than modern pugs and have a distinct muzzle. A later work, Pug, by B. A. Howe, circa 1850, shows a pug with tightly cropped ears, a style that didn't go out of fashion until 1895, when ear-cropping was outlawed in Britain as inhumane.
Paintings also tell us of the pug's stature in society. Pug and Terrier, by John Sargent Noble, shows a clearly well-kept pug wearing an almost-human expression of disdain as he looks down at a lesser dog wearing a begging cup around his neck.
The pug's fun-loving personality shines out in Rover and Puggy. Painted by Charles Burton Barber in 1878, it shows a pug and collie standing amid discarded tennis rackets and balls. Both dogs look as if they're just waiting for someone to start a game.
Most of the pugs portrayed in Victorian and earlier works of art are fawn-colored, but one picture from 1895 portrays a black pug from Queen Victoria's kennel. The dog has a white blaze on the chest, a common characteristic of black pugs at that time. A more modern portrait of a black pug is that of Nero, dated 1986. The artist, Neil Winokur, prepared a triptych of three cibachrome photographs with Nero in the center. He's flanked by his favorite rubber chew toys — a lamb chop and a lady's foot.
Besides being companions to entertainers, pugs are entertainment stars in their own right. One of the best-loved films featuring a pug is the 1986 movie The Adventures of Milo and Otis(Otis was the pug). Japanese filmmaker Masanori Hata made this family film about two friends — a pug and a cat — that go on an unanticipated adventure when one falls into a river and is swept downstream and the other follows.
In the 1997 movie Men in Black, an alien named Frank, in the form of a pug (played by seven-year-old Mushu), stole the show from stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith. He made a repeat appearance in the 2002 sequel, Men in Black II, in which Frank becomes an agent partnered with Smith. If you look closely, you'll also find pugs in the movies Pocahontas, Runaway Bride, The Great Race, and Dune.
Pugs Through the Pages
A number of books feature pugs and for good reason: they're funny and photogenic. One of the most laugh-out-loud portrayals of pugs is Clara, The Early Years, by the late Margo Kaufman. Clara was the pug that ruled Kaufman's life, and the book is her uproarious account of life with the imperious pug. In one episode from the book, the author writes: “Five minutes after her arrival, she inspected our junior suite like Leona Helmsley checking to see if the chocolate mints on the pillows were lined up at the right angles.”
In PugSpotting: A True History of How Pugs Saved Civilization, author Susanne McCaffery-Saville explores the historical relationship between pugs and people and discusses how pugs have influenced art, literature, and music.
Pugs in Public, by photographer George Bennett, is a tribute to the pugs that inspire slavish devotion in their people and amusement in all who encounter them. Some of the pugs you'll meet in its pages are Tuck, who spends his days in his owner's art gallery, with a three o'clock break for biscuits at the Four Seasons hotel; Buddy, the quality-control specialist at a bicycle shop; and Pee Wee, who runs things at a chic café.
Another photographer, Jim Dratfield, captures pugs in all their many moods: philosophical, dignified, puzzled, content, and cool. The sepia-toned and full-color photographs include pugs getting married in a Las Vegas chapel, studying the architecture of a Gothic cathedral, and trying on a new toupee.