One day, probably in the 1880s, the owner or owners of these three noble beasts gathered them up for an outing to downtown San Francisco. At the corner of Montgomery and Market Streets, the three dogs and their people may have entered an elevator that carried them to the famous photography studios of Isaiah West Taber (1830-1912), a photographer noted for his portraits of famous Californians and his large series of stereo views of his adopted state.
The pugs probably passed through, or even waited in, a parlor like the one depicted in the image below — or perhaps even this one. Successful city photographers in this period often created elaborately decorated parlors — versions of parlors in the houses of well-to-do people — to attract clients. In research I did for a book on Victorian parlors, I discovered that these rooms were not only a marketing tool, they also allowed waiting customers to imagine themselves as refined, cultivated people. I don’t think that the noble pugs cared about anything in the parlor depicted below; still, they may have enjoyed the warmth of the wall-to-wall carpet on their little pug toes!
The studio where the noble pugs posed probably contained a number of different theatrical-style props — backdrops of architecture or natural scenery, drape-y curtains, posing chairs and carpets. But the unknown photographer (I.W. Taber had a staff) who captured this image chose a setting of papier-mache rocks with an evident seam where two pieces were joined together. Excelsior! The detail below, which I have edited a bit to improve contrast, demonstrates that the pugs were not concerned about holding still for the camera.
I’ve published quite a few studio portraits of dogs in this blog, and there will be more in future posts, but this is one of my very favorites. As I go through my own smallish collection of nineteenth-century pet portraiture, I find that pugs are over-represented. I’m not sure whether this is because they were especially treasured companion dogs, hence more likely to be taken to the studio for a portrait, or whether it is because they were a relatively new introduction to the array of dog breeds found in the United States in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. I’ll write about the fad for pugs in a future post.