Just Hangin’ Around

The time has come, I think, to look at what the dummy board is in more detail. Let’s take George as an example.

George the early 18th century Grenadier

He is an imposing sort of chap with a rather evil stare, a wicked looking sabre and a nasty musket! He looks a real bruiser doesn’t he? Like he could just step on your toes and be 7 feet of real trouble. But really he isn’t as bad as all that. For one thing – he is, of course, totally flat!

That is the clever thing about really good dummy boards. They make you think they are really there. How is that done?

  1. His edges are painted fading away into the background which makes him very rounded, like a real body would be.
  2. He is painted in great detail with good shadows.
  3. He is constructed on quite a thick heavy wooden board which gives “weight” to the illusion
  4. He’s cut in outline with no tell-tale extra bits of background to make you think “aha-this is a picture!”
  5. His edges are bevelled, that is sloping away from you to aid the illusion of 3 D.
  6. And lastly, he’s placed close to a wall to throw realistic shadows.

We must also remember that houses were a lot darker in those far off days; no electric lights, smaller windows and poorer quality glass in them.

All this is a technique known as trompe l’œil. This is a French phrase meaning ‘deceiving the eye.’ And of course, that is what George and all the best dummy board figures are into. Deception.That is what they were invented for back in the 17th century when the Dutch were messing about with oil paint on board. They were made for just hangin’ around looking real…and in some cases decorative. I wouldn’t however, tell George that. No, Not if you are fond of your teeth! 🙂

Silly me…. I’ve just told you he is harmless…..haven’t I?

Well yes, he isn’t actually able to hurt you, unless he was to fall on you. He weighs a ton as I’ve said. But he could give you a fright.

A tale told to me by the House Steward of Canon’s Ashby in Northamptonshire. U.K. where George lives, illustrates just how, in the right sort of conditions we can be taken in by this type of figure.

David was working in the courtyard garden at the house in the winter when the house is closed to the public. The figure of the Grenadier was not in his usual place but had been propped up near the window of the Great Hall.Late in the day, in fading light, David glanced up and forgetting for an instant that George had been moved, gave himself an almighty fright. A 7 foot high figure of George’s imposing nature would no doubt be capable of sending folk fleeing! 😉

So, we now know that, when these figures were first made, they were just there to deceive, to make the onlooker jump and to allow the owner of such a fine visual joke to have a good belly laugh, at everyone elses expense.

More fine figures can be found on:


Do go and look.

Nice to see that George is still doing his job 300 years later! 🙂

Thanks to David and the National Trust for the photo of George.

3 Responses to “Just Hangin’ Around”

  1. Dairy of a Dummy Board- The Tail End…. « Pastmastery's Blog Says:

    […] will remember, we have spoken about beveling before. In “Just Hangin’ around”. This was done so that you could not so readily see the thickness of the board, or table, that the […]

  2. Lost and Found « Pastmastery's Blog Says:

    […] group of dummy boards. They range through the huge like George at Canons Ashby in Northants. U.K. ( see Just Hangin’ Around. ) or this fine 7 ft. tall early 18th century Grenadier in The Clandon House Collection in the U.K. […]

  3. Pastmastery's Blog Says:

    […] You remember way back at the beginning of this blog when we were introducing the types of figures that we might see as we go about the world, we mentioned that very rare creature…. the Blackamoor. ( Just Hangin’ Around ) […]

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