The Real Thing?

My last post prompted this response from Nina…in Canada.

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

{ ah… but you can’t have it both ways…..!says I…tee hee }!

It’s interesting how each age feels free to cannibalize “vintage” pieces — those pieces that are old enough to look out of date or tacky but not old enough to be really valued ….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 :(

A great debate has raged over the last century or so, in art history circles, about this type of canvas on board figure.
They have been ( are still are being- some of them are in quite well known collections. ) 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, and why, most people are convinced…and act accordingly. Just a few 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! ;)
My personal opinion is that he is a 19th century dummy board…if he wasn’t intended as a dummy board when he was painted, personally I think he has to be 19th century. But I would still like to hear from anyone who can argue that they might be The Real Thing. Lively debate is a good thing for academic growth!  😉

Nina talks about the cannibalisation of Vintage items by the following generations . I know that it has been happening ever since a man could hold a chisel and wield a paintbrush. I have been reading the new book ‘Courtiers’ by Lucy Wortley. ( HEARTILY RECOMMENDED ) Even in the first half of the 18th century ( which I suppose we all think of as the epitome of Georgian style and it is said, most people in this country hanker after this era ) they felt compelled to update and renovate, to ‘make good’ ( as they thought ) and re-fashion.

We are, as a species, compelled to alter and ‘improve’ on what has gone before. It’s only really in the latter half of the 20th century that we began to question what we were doing and how we did it. Now the fashion is for consolidation not restoration or renovation. If a thing is broken, we tend to mend it in a way that it becomes obvious that it has been mended. We no longer work to touch up but to prevent further deterioration and when we do replace, we use materials or methods that make it obvious that it isn’t a repair that mimics the real thing so closely we are fooled into thinking it’s no repair at all!

It goes for dummy boards too. The figure of a seated sewer we looked at in the post Cats and Pigeons , the  early 18th century Temple Newsam Girl, has been re-mended for apparently, she had seen ancient damage to her sewing hand. Someone in history, no idea when or who, had repaired it badly and had given the poor girl six fingers! 🙂

Temple Newsam Girl c. 1700

She was repaired again recently. Her hand was replaced by a ‘new’ one painted in acrylics! I for one throw up my hands in horror as I do feel that this is an unnecessary desecration of an old dummy board, no better than the poor repair of the past. Why acrylics?

To show that it HAS been repaired….to allow future generations to work out that her hand is not The Real Thing.

Well really..Deary me….are they going to be so thick then?

Recently a friend has had an extension to her house. She has a large Victorian farmhouse and wanted to add a ‘garden room’ ( as you do ). Was she allowed to add it in the style of the rest of the house? Was she to be permitted to build it in brick…even in reclaimed Victorian brick?

Victorian brick...stone extras?


It had to be in a material totally divorced from its locality ( which has hundreds of very nice red brick Victorian properties. ) It has to be made in another material which was not only totally unsympathetic to the area but to the rest of the building. STONE!

And the planners reason for this?  So that in years to come, people will not believe that the extension is 19th century.

I ask you!? 🙂

So whilst we might decry the practices of the past…we are still at it…in a different sort of way!

I had an e mail the other week from Kirsty and Ian.

We have just returned from a holiday in Norway and found some dummy boards there. Are they really Norwegian? The lady in the Historic House said they were.We wondered if they were the real thing….because of what you have told us.

Nice to hear that people are keeping their eyes open.

And they kindly sent me some pictures.

The "Norwegian" children

Now where have you seen these before?

Don’t you think that they are very like some of the figures we have been examining in previous posts on our home grown dummy boards of children? This time the little boy has a rather fluffy dog!

Pair of mass produced figures at Trerice House a PastMastery miniature.

They may have ended up in a Norwegian country house but they are in fact English through and through.

The ‘mass produced’ by sign painters jobbies again. What was it I said?

That these are the most often seen dummy boards, that they were mass produced and that they found their way into collections all over from,

Hong Kong to Iceland ( A bit on the side )

So well done Kirsty and Ian. You were right. They are not Norwegian.

Another example of things not being The Real Thing. I would love to find an example of a Norwegian dummy board…a home grown one with provenance. Anyone out there know of one?

A lot of nonsense has been talked ( and committed to paper ) about this art form. Because there has been no real study ( and here I must point out that without the contribution that Dr. Clare Graham and her pamphlet, Dummy Boards and Chimney Boards published in the 19080’s by Shire, made to the world of art history, I would not have been able to make the ( forgive me…) leaps forward in the study of dummy boards that I have, ) there has been no real debate or exchange of ideas. The computer has changed all that.

So now we can do much more comparing and contrasting. People ( such as Kristy and Ian, Kim and my next commenter Phillipe ) can send me photos at the press of a button and every time this happens, the bag of knowledge gets a bit fatter, the photo album fills up and a lot of the silliness can be consigned to the bin!

Lastly Phillipe asks:

Are those cut out figures of trees and plants also real dummy boards ? ( I’ve translated from the French.)

If they are sufficiently trompe l’oeil, I suppose they are.

I think the orange tree is quite an old pattern. They were used in the 17th century of course though I don’t know  of any survivors. There are some 19th century ones though. There is a wonderful account of a dinner party held at Ham House in the 17th century where various bit of food were made as dummy boards. In this account we hear that pies and puddings were made out of pasteboard ( like cardboard ), that the table was decorated with pretend flower arrangements and small trees. Perhaps this is the sort of thing  we would find if we went back there?

Regency fruit basket c. 1800...PastMastery miniature 1 inch across. Before cutting out.

Of course…they would have to be a be bit bigger than this one….. 😉

This is the end of the answers to your questions for a while… keep ’em coming!

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