A question of belonging?

Goodness me….. my little competition is proving a great piece of fun. 🙂 ( scroll to the end for a link.)

Not all of you have got it right of course, but so many of you HAVE. The hat is filling up…..but not too many….

When I first started this blog I had no conception of how many people might be interested in dummy boards.

I knew, of course, from the reception my book This Quiet Life gets and how many folk e mail me with their finds or their acquisitions, that people are eager to know about them  and that a scholarly tome on the subject was long overdue.

But how many would follow me week in week out, feel that they wanted to belong to this blog…well I’m staggered! All for a bit of paint on a bit of wood!

And as for the  competition post….well…it’s amazing. The stats have gone st(r)atospheric!…But I am very surprised that those of you in Britain ( where I am ) are lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to entries…come on you lot!  😦

Another few days and we shall have a winner.

Meanwhile, in fits and starts, we shall tackle a few of the e mails I have had over the past few weeks. I’ll answer the questions and illustrate them with real dummy boards from my collection of photos, if I may.

Firstly, Kim asked about a figure she had seen in a window of an antique shop in London. She passes it every day on her way to work, was intrigued by it and sent me an address. I e mailed the shop…and got a picture.

You have seen this one before; as a bit of fun, I used it in my Morris Dancing post on May 1st ( or more properly April 30th.) morris-merrymaking-and-mayhem I call him the Pimlico Boy, for where he was found.

A young man…yes it is a boy in the costume of the early 17th century. Boys were dressed in skirts until they were about five or six, when they were said to be ‘breeched’ – right up until the 19th century and just poking into the 20th. My mother has a nice picture of my Grandfather dressed in a frilly frock like this!

Love the dog...where's his skirt?

An interesting account of the ‘breeching’ of young Frank, is to be found in a charming letter contained in the ‘Lives of the Norths’, a 16th century account of family life by Roger North.

“…Never had any bride that was to be drest upon her wedding night more hands about her….some the legs and some the arms, the taylor butt’ning and others putting on the sword…They are very fitt, everything and he looks taller and prettyer than in his petticoats.”

The Pimlico Boy

So here we have a young boy before he is breeched, looking rather cross I think, – well so would you! 😉  from about 1600.

He has the fashionable ‘kerchief’ dangling from his belt…they had just come into fashion, and a silver rattle is held in his left hand. He is wearing a very strange lumpy hat over a beautiful lace cap. These hats were very popular in Holland and the Low Countries in the 17th century and we often see young children wearing them in portraits and the peopled interiors of the school of Dutch artists known as Dutch genre paintings. The rims were padded so that if the child fell and bumped their head…they would bounce. ( Maybe we should bring them back)?

Here is a nice picture by Nicholas Maes of the very same type of hat!

What a well behaved child! .Recognise the lady? Yes a lacemaker

So that points us to a Dutch figure. The lace and the costume as a whole tells us this too.

There is however, at the bottom a little plaque which says that this is a young man called Wylber ( possibly ) Teltingh again(  possibly or Yeltingh..and very Dutch, ) and that he was born ( geboren ) in 1588!!!

Now throughout this blog I have been stressing, have I not, that the dummy board is a 17TH CENTURY ART FORM!

How can this be? 😉

There may be just a very few earlier figures. The form didn’t just arrive fully fledged. Someone had to have the idea and others had to improve on it over time.These people, as far as we know were the Dutch painters of the late 16th century and three-  Gysbrechts, Bisschop and Hoogstraten, spring to mind. ( I always remember them as  Grevious Bodily Harm!)

We know they were into trompe l’oiel,; we know because there are still pictures in various galleries in Holland by these artists and very clever they are too.

a Bisschop still life

and a Hoogstraten still life

Gysbrechts still life

There are several references too, to this triumvirate of painters, in contemporary  documents which say that they were known for making dummy boards in their lifetime. Have any survived? I have never seen any example where I can hold my hand to my heart and say…this is G, B  H! 😉

Ah well….. one just might turn up one day. That’s the thing about my speciality…it certainly is an open subject. In fact I’m on the track of one at the moment and will report as soon as I know anything.

So… is our young man The Real Thing…is he one of the very earliest dummy boards?

I’m sad to say he probably isn’t.WHY?

  1. He has a plaque and that makes us a bit nervous about him. The original dummy board would not have had such a thing and the Victorians, in particular, were very clever at trying to make us believe in their curious little labels, by aging them and writing….well often…nonsense on them! This plaque may be real…but read on…
  2. He is a canvas on wood figure. This rings a lot of alarm bells to a dummy board scholar! Why would a dummy board maker go to the trouble of making a board and then adding canvas to paint on…? Did he think perhaps that there would be less of a problem with warping of the table and consequently flaking of the surface paint? Probably not.
  3. If we look at our boy’s shape…it’s odd. Most early dummy boards are quite contained shapes. I think we have talked about sticky out bits before on this blog.  😉 The 17th century or if you like 16th century dummy board artist would have been much happier with a shape that wasn’t going to have bits lopped off by accident. Sticky out bits are dangerous….ruins yer design don’t y’ know….!
  4. They painted people.… not furniture. If you think about it…you don’t want half a bit of furniture. It destroys the trompe l’oiel effect As does the stand, which is monumental. All early dummy boards would have been painted straight down to the ground. ( ok …so it might be a later addition… but still …) and after all the main aim of the artist was to make you think that there was a real person standing there in front of you or on the edges of your vision. They were a visual joke…a deception.

So our little lad is probably a 19th century approximation of an early dummy board.

The painting, however is the real thing. The type of paint is correct…the style of painting is right BUT …. he has been cut out of a real 17th century painting and mounted as a dummy board, probably in the 19th century. Hard to say when really but this was the sort of cannibalism the Victorians indulged in…they weren’t very kind or thoughtful about ‘old stuff’ and just ploughed on regardless, I’m afraid.

Ah well… and there are quite a few of them about. I’ll feature some others in a  later post on this blog.

Now, to the burning question….does this make our little boy,  a 19th century dummy board….or is he a 17th century one?  Where does he belong?

Answers on a postcard please!

😉   …no I mean it..do let me know your thoughts! Post a comment.

And talking of answers…..I have a competition running at the moment. For the post you need to read for the PastMastery competition ( those who have not yet entered…) click here all-back-to-front

answers to sue@pastmastery.com

It’s easy…promise!

2 Responses to “A question of belonging?”

  1. Nina Says:

    What a fascinating history! I think he’s a 17th century painting but a 19th century dummy board 🙂

    It’s interesting how each age feels free to cannibalize “vintage” pieces — those pieces that are old enough to look out of date or tacky but not old enough to be really valued …. I remember my Mum in the 1970s painting all kinds of very nice little oak pieces of furniture from around 1910-20 or so 😦

  2. pastmastery Says:

    A great debate has raged over the last century or so, about this type of figure, Nina.
    They have been ( are still are being ) passed off as The Real thing, ie: figures made in the 17th century, mostly, I have to say through the ignorance of the dealers selling them. When you point out that they may not be, most people are convinced…just some hang onto the fact that the public will be as ignorant as they were and continue to market them as the oldest figures. They fetch higher prices of course! 😉

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