Brian and literary pugs

There’s something about a pug that I find irresistible. Look at these two, Brian and Ernie – I defy anyone to look at them and not see two of the most beautiful creatures you have ever seen.

Well, OK, perhaps some of that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am not so far smitten as not to see that. In the end, I suppose it is up to you whether you find them jolie-laide (which fabulously may not be so much French as Franglais), or the less nuanced English version: pretty ugly.

I’ve no doubt on which side of the line I fall. Apart from anything else, there’s something about those deeply lined faces that just draw themselves. It’s like someone has taken a marker pen to them and done a first draft for you. That’s what I thought was the reason for that slight sense of the uncanny that hung over me whilst drawing these dogs- déjà dessiné, if not déjà vu.

And then I remembered – I do have pugs, two of them, that have lived with me since childhood. The first was William – the unlikely hero of Arthur Ransome’s Coot Club (aka one of the non-Swallows and Amazons, Swallows and Amazons).

Ransome gives the pug such an expressive back, doesn’t he, maybe that’s why he lingered so long in memory. (And notably, like all Ransome’s sketches of characters, William is at his best when drawn from behind.)

The second pug of my youth, is the pug from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. She sits on the sofa, next to Lady Betram, a pampered, indulged creature, who lets nothing interrupt her life of genteel comfort (pug and lady both, of course).

To the education of her daughters Lady Bertram paid not the smallest attention. She had not time for such cares. She was a woman who spent her days in sitting, nicely dressed, on a sofa, doing some long piece of needlework, of little use and no beauty, thinking more of her pug than her children…

I wonder whether it’s the sofa, or the needlework, that makes Lady Betram all of a sudden, seem such a role model…. Anyhow, having started browsing through the novel again (my favourite of all Austens – I know, I’m one of those), I found, with horror, that the awful, awful crisis, I can hardly bring myself to write it, the loss of Henry Crawford (my favourite Austen hero) is so much worse than I had ever realised. For Fanny’s marriage to Mr Crawford, was to have been doubly blessed by the gift of a pug puppy from Lady Bertram:

“And I will tell you what, Fanny – which is more than I did for Maria – the next time pug has a litter you shall have a puppy.”

Heart-breaking, isn’t it. No Henry Crawford, and now no pug too.

Anyhow – let’s let slip some dogs today. We’ll start with Brian, whose snoozing form drew my inner Lady Bertram to him.IMG_5993Here he is underway:

I love the cotton reels in this picture. I spend so much time working at this self-imposed scale, I sometimes forget how small the portraits are. Like stepping in and out of Lilliput.

And here is the finished Brian:IMG_6583


[if your appetite for a pet portrait, literary or otherwise, has been whetted, do check out the commissions page.]

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