Archive for June, 2010

Two of a kind


I’m having  a bit if a rest from painting. As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a struggle for me some days, to grip a paintbrush for maybe a few hours and sit still, hunched over my easel. So a change is as good as a rest and I have been playing around with my other past time, the little fairies I make in aid of the Hospice. Over on  Whimsicals, my other blog you can see what I have been up to. I will soon get back to my miniature painting though and will take you all through the processes involved with photos, as I usually do.

Meanwhile these two charming dummy board figures were sent to me the other day.

The Tissington Boy

The Tissington girl

They are a delightful pair which live at Tissington Hall in Derbyshire and Sir Richard FitzHerbert Bart. sent them to me in response to my email inquiry. A friend ( another of my dummy board ‘spies’ ) had visited the house,  when on holiday in Derbyshire and seeing the pair, reported to me that there were two small figures there.

I was all prepared for the usual small mass produced figures, which as you know, dear readers,  are two a penny in this country { well maybe two a thousand pounds perhaps! 😉  } Imagine my surprise when I saw these!

Now, we need to look carefully at them, as they aren’t what they seem at first glance.

They are, from their costume, 18th century. The boy has the costume of the mid, the girl, a little earlier in the 8th century. Are they a pair at all in the proper sense of being painted and belonging together from the first? We must remember what we have said in other posts about costume not being a very good indication of age.

However, the paint technique is very similar and though they are very good portraits, they are not actually the figures they purport to be.

The two original paintings on which these figures were modelled, are in Tissington Hall too.

The original image ( from the guidebook ) cut out of a portrait.

Lady Selina FitzHerbert, her portrait ( from the guidebook)

The picture of William FitzHerbert by Thomas Hudson  ( c. 1760 ) is in the West Drawing room of Tissington Hall. Interestingly he is holding an early form of the cricket bat. The picture of Selina is in the Drawing Room too, over the fireplace. She holds a small vase of flowers. They are brother and sister.

Both of these paintings are intact so we haven’t got the often discovered, ” these are dummy board made from images cut out of paintings ” scenario.

So they must have been figures copied from the paintings. We have no hard evidence to say that the artist who painted Lady Selina, Anglelica Kauffmann ( though there are rumours she did,  ) or Thomas Hudson, dabbled in the making of dummy boards, so we know they are not contemporary with the paintings.

The Lady is seen only from the knees up and the dummy board maker has had to add her skirt bottom. They have done a good job. I have, several times, had to add a bit on the bottom of a dummy board, because there are no feet or legs and I know how difficult it is to get the right look to the figure.

Here we have one I painted a while back, of Sir John Thursby, a Northamptonshire landowner who was resident at Abington Hall,- feet and all.

Sir John Thursby from a portrait... his legs and feet added. He is seen in the panelled room at Abington.

The dummy board of William has been copied from the portrait and the portion of the background between the cricket bat and his legs and between his feet, have been cut out. This makes him very realistic of course!

Look at the faces….another clue. They are not representations of the originals. They are slightly different. Can we tell if this was intentional or accidental?  It isn’t easy, I know, to reproduce things exactly.

The clothes are very well produced and the shadows convincing.They work well as dummy boards, William better than Selina. But what are they? Are they trying to mislead us into thinking they are 18th century?

Are they, as I first thought, examples of the 19th century fascination for making a dummy board from a painting? Were they commissioned by one the the 19th century FitzHerberts of Tissington as a bit of fun? Sometimes we find that there is a talented artist in the family and that they were made by a family member – again – for a bit of fun. We have spoken here on this blog about other figures, which are examples of this kind of thing and you have seen quite a few photographs of 19th century, “early” figures. Some are obviously designed to deceive – fakes – and it takes a keen eye to find them out. Others are just as we have mentioned…a bit of fun. These though, are not fakes either.

So What Are They?

They are indeed a bit of fun for they were made in the 1990’s by Sir Richard’s mother! There is a talented artist in the family!

She loved the originals so much that she decided that she wanted some dummy boards made from these particular paintings, to have with her in her cottage. And made them herself.

How wonderful. Not many people were producing dummy boards in the 1990’s, especially historically inspired ones.

She and I are obviously two of a kind.

To see these two for yourself go to:

Tissington Hall

or visit  Tissington Hall, Tissington, Ashbourne,  Derbyshire, DE6 1RA

Thanks to Sir Richard FitzHerbert for the photos, the information and permission to use William and Selina for this post.


Four by Four


From time to time here on this blog, I show you the sorts of things I have been painting, either as commissions or as entries for various exhibitions to which I submit.

Not all of them of course, are dummy boards. I’ll start this post with my latest works and we shall get onto my usual subject of historic dummy boards after this.

Three miniatures all under 6 inches destined for an exhibition this summer and one commission. Four works in all.

They are all taken from photographs. The first was found in the Telegraph newspaper one Saturday in May and they were so very sweet they just HAD to be painted in water colour. Fancy trying to rear so many and being successful!

One short of a bakers dozen! Long tailed tit, chicks and their mother. Water colour, 6 inches

The next is a commission, for a gentleman who wants a present for his wife. I had three photographs to work from and all of them were quite small, old and faded. With a bit of jiggery – pokery on Photoshop I managed to come up with an image that showed the beautiful marking of this pony, sufficiently well to paint from.

Venus the Palomino ,water colour 6 inches

The third is a photograph I have had for a while. I believe I kept it from one of my birthdays ( I’m still having them at this juncture) 😉  as I thought it would make a good miniature water colour. I found a tiny oval frame at a tabletop sale I happened to pass in Wimborne last weekend. What a find at 60pence!

Barn Owl...water colour 6 inches high

And the last painting is also from a photograph and not entirely seasonal, as it was a Christmas card from a friend. I loved the play of light on the hair of this fox and the fact that he is all fluffed up against the cold. He too is a miniature water colour and is about three inches across.

A sun tan? water colour 3 inches by 6

I seem to have had a rather ‘nature filled’ time with my paintings, lately. And talking of nature…

The Summer Solstice is upon us! There have been very few evenings where we have been able to sit out and take advantage of the lighter nights to watch the bats. Too cold and windy by half…. for us and also for the bats!

As a consequence I have been warmly secreted away in my studio painting the above pictures, of an evening in good natural light and at the same time pondering on a pair of dummy boards that lately came in to me via my “spies” in the U.S. Another detective story of sorts for you.

Here they are…

Boy with bird 19th c. U.S.

Girl with fan 19th c. U.S.

They are rather sweet aren’t  they?

We have spoken quite a lot about the fact that dummy board are painted over and over again; that they are ‘mass produced’ in the loosest possible sense of the word and that we find the same features and designs in many different places.

These two were found separately in different areas of the U.S in antique shops. They are however quite a good pair when put together and were obviously painted by the same person. How do we know? The faces bear similarities, the paintwork is the same, the colours are similar, the style is the same……. and we have seen a pair ( together ) like this before. They are in the collection at the Albany Museum in the U.S.A.

And here they are:

The Albany Pair 19th/20th century U.S.A

Notice how the first figures have been reversed. This often happens. It’s almost as if the figures have been copied by tracing or even by using a device rather like a camera obscura and that they have ended up back to front. This does happen with a device like this. We see too many copies of dummy boards that are reversed, for it not to be so. We need to be careful here, as some photographs are reversed of course 😉 Not the case here though.

Now, the most interesting thing about these figures, for the scholar of the dummy board, is the fact that they definitely hail from the United States. There are just a few documented figures or even figures that are on native woods, which we can actually be sure are of  American production. This is one pair.

They have had a rather interesting history, these two, or should I say four. ( And before you ask…no they are not the same figures. The museum still own their pair – we do know that some institutions are getting rid of some of their items to earn some hard cash- and if you look carefully there are slight variations in stance and pose. )

It was considered even up to the 1980’s, that these two figures were English and 18th century. This was I suppose a decision based on costume and not on stylistic appearance. ( The Rye Historical Society exhibition catalogue of 1981 they are described by that august dame of the dummy board figure, Helaine Fendelman as being English 18th century.)

So what are they?

Work done by Tammis Kane Groft and Mary Alice MacKay at the Albany Institute of History and Art in New York U.S.A. on this pair of silent companions in that collection has highlighted the fact that the United States, at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, had become fascinated with reproducing past fashions on dummy board figures.
They do bear a vague resemblance to the Easton Neston pair,  ( see: You-lose-some-you-win-some),  having the same very ‘angelic’ faces.
It is however, the dress on the girl, a rather fanciful creation, which makes us wonder at the age of this pair of figures. It is actually very difficult to date costume worn by children in the 18th century, and so therefore almost impossible to put a sure date to this figure’s intended costume. She wears a beige unstructured dress and a red, lace trimmed overdress with elbow length sleeves, with ruffles. For the majority of the 18th century the female silhouette was full and broad and only at the very end of that century did fashion dispense with the corset.
Perhaps this painting is meant to be a depiction of the Peignoir and Gown ( see for an example; Ackerman’s illustrations online -1797 – The Costumier’s Manifesto ) a sort of night-gown worn in the home environment which was fashionable at the very end of the 18th century. It might also be a depiction of the Redingote ( French form of the English ‘Riding coat’), which made its way to France at the end of the 18th century. This was in most cases a very tailored affair and this costume is flowing and loose. Therefore, there seem to be quite a few anomalies in the representation of the costume on this board and bearing in mind the fact, as we have mentioned, that costume is not always a good indication of the age of a dummy board figure, we might suggest that it is a later working of an earlier costume, nudging this board into the 19th century.
Groft and Mackay submit that these figures are examples of Colonial Revival style ( 1870-1920 ) a nationalistic fashion in the United States. At this time Americans began to value their own heritage and architecture and Colonial Revival sought to follow the style of the period around the Revolutionary War ( 1763-1775 ). These two figures are then very important examples indeed. Great to find them….all four.

I wonder how many more just like them, are out there? Do let me know if you find any. 🙂

Cuckoo’s Nest


A Cotswold side at Wimborne

Here we are back from the Wimborne Folk Festival…quite tanned as the weather was glorious! I felt a bit sorry for the dancers as it was really, at times, too hot to dance. The Cotswold tradition sides ( which I used to dance and now just play for ), were not too badly off in their whites but the poor Border morris sides were sweltering in their masks, blacked faces and tattered jackets.

The Wild Hunt Border Morris...very scary!

However, they did tremendously well and the festival was heaving. Poor little Wimborne was straining at the seams!

The High Street with Dorset Buttons, a North West clog side, dancing.

Now we are back home and down to earth, but still with dance tunes ringing in our heads. They really are catchy tunes! With strange names too…like Lad’s a Buncham, Old Woman Tossed up in a Blanket, Jockey to the Fair and one of my favourites – Cuckoos Nest.

All those people crammed into a small space and not an ounce of trouble. It would not have been so in the 17th and 18th centuries, I can tell you!

Today, let’s go into the world of the “Festivals” of the past; those entertainments our ancestors enjoyed. We have explored the 17th century theatre .We have been to a masquerade. Let’s now don our finery and go to the Pleasure Garden.

We could just dig out our Masquerade costume, our Domino and go as we were, when we went to our private party, last week.

The Domino cloak of 1700, by Irene Von Tresko

It was rather chilly in that costume frankly! 😉 see Wish You Were Here

But I fancy getting togged up in my finery this time. This is what you did when you went to the Pleasure Garden. You put on your finest and paraded with everyone else. It was a matter of seeing and being seen!

Now which one shall we go to?

We have several to choose from. There were about a hundred Pleasure Gardens at one stage in London and  its environs.

The most famous were Vauxhall, Ranelagh and Cremorne

The Rotunda at Ranelagh

Many of them were huge, sprawling over many acres and contained concert halls or platforms for dancing and music. The smaller types were known as Tea Gardens and one could stroll around in the shrubbery and drink tea in the little pavilions dotted about. All very refined you might think!

They were wonderful, full of arbours and flowers, fairy lights, grassy walks, tinkling fountains and firework displays but they were also, at times, seething with vice and depravity. We shall come to that.

So what shall we wear for our perambulations?

What are the Beau Monde wearing in 1720 or thereabouts when we have chosen to dip into the pleasures of the Public garden.

Well our gentlemen are still wearing the Justaucorps the gathered coat, but a few years on from the turn of the century, it’s slightly less flared and a little more curved. The Gilet or waistcoat is still long but is a little shorter than it has been and is allowed to flap open at the bottom. The cut of the sleeves of the coat are as wide as they are going to get with a turned back cuff which is enormous and reaches the elbow! His breeches still reach the knee but now he might be wearing his stockings over them secured with a garter! ( and you thought Superman was odd wearing his knickers over his tights 😉  }

A PastMastery dummy board 3ft. Private collection in the U.K.

Button manufacturers are coining it in as there are no less than forty on the coat alone. And how beautiful some of them are with enamel and jewels, engraving and inlay. Our gentleman still wears the tricorn hat which is quite high crowned; he may carry a cane and he must have a sword. Not only is this an essential accoutrement for a gentleman but a necessity. It’s still quite lawless out there on the streets despite the appearance of civility and sophistication.

  • Left: PastMastery dummy board artitst’s collection
  • And us ladies? We are still wearing the Manteau of course, or Mantua in England but it has undergone a slight change. It  has developed from cone to dome shape , then gradually flattened in front and back. The smaller fussy patterns have made way for plains and larger blousier designs.The advent of the contouche or sack dress has developed out of deshabille and is less formal and more loose than the previous decade or so.

    Our hair is dressed with lace and ribbons still but now, we have a special little flat hat and the ribbons hang over our shoulder. We wouldn’t go out with our hair being powdered. Fans are still a must and our little shoes are pointy and, like our gentlemen friends, jewelled and buckled.

    Life sized dummy board of a lady c. 1730 private collection in Italy

    Drawings of the saque dress c. 1730

    So we step out into our carriage and are whisked off to the gardens.

    We look in our reticule and fish out a coin of the realm. It costs us a shilling to enter and for this we can have tea with bread and butter!

    Entering the gates we see that there are some persons of quality parading the droves and avenues and the gentleman who owns the gardens, Mr. Johnathan Tyers, is greeting some of them personally. Oh to be so famed!

    Mr Tyers

    There are bowling greens, fountains of every description, grottoes where hermits lurk in the shadows

    The Head of Moses, a late 17thc. ecclesiastical dummy board but he does quite well as the Hermit of the Grotto!

    and tree lined glades with seats and arbours for dalliance. Painted boxes

    PastMastery miniature of Mr. Hogarth 4 inches

    ( some of them painted by the famous  artist Mr. Hogarth ), where we can order supper and dine by the light of thousands of candles and twinkling fairy lights, which are candles stuck into glass jars strung up in the trees. A shower of rain makes us scurry for the shelter of the Rotunda where we wait it out in the relative comfort of the “eternal circle” as we walk round and round meeting and greeting, seeing and being seen.

    Lady Sheffield a Gainsborough dummy board in miniature. 5 ins. She will do for Sir Tenley Knott's mistress!

    From seven o’clock in the morning , hardy sorts can be seen taking the waters of the chalybeate spring, for one’s health, don’t you know, but between ten and eleven when we arrive, the place is filled with a gay and fashionable throng. It may seem as if we are all persons of quality but the company is extraordinarily mixed. Virtue and vice and fashion and the negation of fashion all have their place. Sir Courtly Nice drives up in his gilt coach. Sir Tenley Knott, brings his mistress and old Sir Boldly Fumble his two daughters.

    PastMastery mini dummy board of Two Sisters after Gainsborough.

    Goodwives and  their children mingle with sempstresses in their tawdry finery and pert shopmen . Lawyers clerks in their gowns dally with flower sellers fragrant with pomades of Jessmine and Orange.

    PastMastery miniature Flower seller. 4 inches after a 19th century dummy board

    The moon rises, the music increases in volume, the light dims in the corners of the gardens, in the arbours and the lovers seats, in the walks behind the Lime trees. Darkness descends on the gravelled paths leading to the grottoes.

    And then…

    *How bright the moon, the air how still….

    In wild confusion there we view,

    Red ribbons grouped with aprons blue;

    Scrapes, curtesies, nods, winks, smiles and frowns,

    Lords, milkmaids, duchesses and clowns

    In all their various deshabille

    Oh.! tiresome….a pair of stockinged legs are sticking out from the bottom of a flowering bush. There’s a ‘bush’ of another kind at the other end which is receiving the attentions of a young ‘prentice. Naughty on two counts……he is supposed to be celibate for the duration of his apprenticeship and could lose his place with his master if found out and well…..I’ll leave you  to work out the other! 😉

    Reminds me of a ballad… you can hear it here sung by the <ahem> lesser folk…..the Cuckoos nest.

    ” There’s a blackthorn bush in our kale yard, a blackthorn bush in our kale yard,

    At the back o thorn bush there lays a lad and lass and they’re busy, busy faring at the cuckoos nest!

    It is thorned and it is prickled, it is compassed all around

    It is thorned and it is prickled and it isn’t easy found. She said young man you blunder and he said it isn’t true. And he left her with the makings of a young cuckoo! 😉

    As I said – A morris tune too!

    19th century dummy board Private collection in the U.S...masquerading as Lord Paltry Weakling!

    Ah …we can see Lord Paltry Weakling and his troupe. How honoured we are to have him visit, in fancy dress too…. on a night when there are light fingered knaves at hand to relieve him of his fine gold repeating watch! 🙂 And in the coffee house we see Mr. Fiddly Business, that noted and wealthy printer and his pretty and elegantly attired wife in fancy dress, Mrs. Prissy Business, about their beverage, unaware that they have just had their purses rifled by a gang of bully boys.

    Life sized 19th century dummy board after Rembrandt's Maria Tripp. Private collection. Mrs Prissy Business perhaps?

    There are sometimes scenes and affrays in the garden and they are favourite hunting grounds of the London pickpocket. We have seen with our very own eyes at the opening of the Ridotto at Vauxhall ( 1732 ) a man steal 50 guineas from a masquerader, but here the watchman was equal to the occasion and the

    ” rogue was taken in the fact”

    On the other hand we can hardly accept without a smile, the statement of a Vauxhall guide book that

    ” even bishops have been seen in this Recess without injuring their character!”

    The Birmingham Bishop 19th c. 3 feet

    19th c. French soldier dummy board Private collection in the U.S.

    And over there a game of Hazard is in progress. We can see the raffling boys from here  some of them, cheating their way to a fortune, ( someone elses) to the strains of an organ playing a piece by Mr. Handel. It may even be the old man playing for us now. A little further along we have a visiting cellist…ah I see it’s Maestro Luigi Boccherini playing his famous minuet in G , for us…

    I see he has an appreciative feline audience. 😉

    There are soldiers placed here and there in the garden. Watching all that is going on and keeping an eye on the rowdy element.

    The Handel statue at Vauxhall Gardens

    Argh!..the relative peace of the garden is rudely broken by the incursion of some rowdy gallants like the Right Honourable young Flipin Bothersome, Member of Parliament for Uppis Ownpiddle in Dorset { near Wimborne don’t you know  ) 😉 and his friends, Sir Noxious Manners and  Captain Downright Peevish. They have been requested not to “smoak on the walks.” Where are the soldiers?

    PastMastery miniature dummy board 4 inches. Theatre figure 19th c. A good one for the Right Honourable Mr. Bothersome?

    Oh dear…they are proving difficult.

    Time to make for the exit I think!

    A very strange place this Pleasure Garden!

    But there is always another day and there are after all, another 99 gardens to visit!


    *All quotations/illustrations are from London Pleasure Gardens of the 18th century by Wroth and Wroth 1896

    Other illustrations are for fun only. PastMastery are not implying that  these actual figures or characters were to be seen at any of the gardens and the post is an amalgamation of features found in several London Pleasure Gardens.

    Back to Backs


    I gave a lecture last evening, to a local NADFAS group. ( National Association of Decorative Fine Art Societies ). And what a very nice lot of people they were!

    I took along my replica full sized figures and my roombox ( a 17th century parlour ) to house those miniature figures which are based on the oldest dummy boards that you might find. And of course a few of my mini figures to people it and a few more besides.

    Life sized PastMastery dummy board of Bonnie Prince Charlie's father as a boy.One I take to shows with me.

    Click here to see the 17th century roombox with dummy board miniatures.

    People were absolutely amazed ( they told me ) that dummy boards could be made so small for the dolls house. What a good idea!

    I think so of course!  And so too, those of you who are, dear readers, mini fanciers,  do you….  😉

    I gave my lecture on the origins, types and uses of dummy boards and illustrated it with a computer Powerpoint display and 60 photographs of this and that. Of course this lecture was aimed at people with a decorative arts interest and not a miniature one, but nevertheless, they appreciated the tinies; it’s a good way to get the point across without having to lug too many great big and heavy figures to and from the car!

    PastMastery - Life sized take on the servant in Livery at the V&A in blue for a change. A heavy old dummy board to cart about!

    Some points that came up after the lecture, during the part where I had invited questions from the floor, were:

    The backs of the figures are so interesting. Why are there so many different types of stands? Why not just one way of making them stand up? What can these backs tell us about the figures?

    I thought we might, in the light of the recent competition we ran, a few posts ago, All Back to Front do a feature on BACKS and particularly,  STANDS.

    The back of a dummy board to the historical scholar, is just as interesting as the front….and in some cases can tell you more  about the origins and age of the figure than the front can.

    In my study of this art form I have come across more than 800 figures now. I have seen over 200 of them with my own eyes and have been privileged to handle them. ( albeit with little gloves on, with some of them!)

    I always look at the back and if I can’t see the figures in the flesh…or should that be the *wood*,  😉  I ask for a photo of the back.

    I have made a list of the types of stands that we find.

    *Those with hooks and eyes to be fixed to a wall with a rod and a small base or a bar along the bottom for balance or if they are made of very thick wood, no bar.
    *Those with very heavy rebated bases, of wooden blocks where the feet are sunk in.
    *Those with blocks behind the feet which act as balancers and props.
    *Those with flat bases or bent metal rods and heavy sand bag type arrangements for weight or actual weights.
    *Those with large bases and/or fins or props rather like the leg of an easel or folding fins.

    All the figures I have ever seen have one or more of this type of stand. In other words any one of these groups may have the added ‘belt and braces’ of the other.

    Now what we want to know is….which came first don’t we?

    A tricky one!

    The oldest figures we find, and by those I mean dummy boards that have a record somewhere  { no no….the police aren’t after them…  😉  } in an early inventory, a document , an advert, a letter , something like this.  Those which, by evidence of costume  ( not always reliable of course ) and paint type, might be considered 17th century, have a hook and eye system, or the remnants of one somewhere on the reverse.

    This is often the only clue we get as to the age of a figure. A hole and a bit of metal sticking out! There are a few of those.

    The system would work like this.

    The dummy board would have a small bar at the very bottom on the reverse. The feet, on a small dark background or the dress, would be painted to the ground. This doesn’t destroy the trompe l’oeil effect and there would be a small eye screwed into the back of the figure at neck level ( usually ). OUCH!

    To this eye, would be attached, a rod ( usually metal) and this would in turn be fixed by a hook to an eye which would be screwed into the wood panelling of the early room in which the figure was displayed.

    And you thought that all those little holes in panels were woodworm. TUT!

    Often, when looking at a dummy board back we can see the evidence of the lost hook and eye system. A gouge large enough to have housed a screw, a bit of metal still in it where it has broken off, evidence of the wear and tear that the metal bar creates on the varnished surface…this sort of thing.

    The Sulgrave boy...and the hole in his head where the eye has been taken out ...rather brutally!

    Sometimes we guess that there has been a hook and eye but can’t actually see it because there is a label ( this has happened to George  the Grenadier at Canons Ashby House in Northamptonshire U.K. ) stuck over it! How annoying!

    George the Grenadier from Canon's Ashby c. 1700- looking cross because his hole has been covered up! 😉

    Sometimes the subsequent stand covers it up. Equally annoying!

    And sometimes someone has filled it in! MOST annoying!

    But a keen pair of eyes and a magnifying glass might help to discover it.

    This type of stand was unobtrusive and held the figure in front of the panelling at a distance that allowed it to throw good and realistic shadows. It did the job well.

    A V&A figure known as Vanity. c.1630 The sort of figure with a hook and eye system.

    Then along came a change in fashion. Wood was suddenly passé. Your panels are gone. You now have nice white plastered walls. What do you do? You can’t screw anything.
    You can’t hold it upright any more!
    NO this is NOT a job for VIAGRA!
    p  l  e  a  s  e  😉
    Dummy board manufacturers ( if this is the right term), had to be inventive. They decided that a large block behind the figure to weight it would be the right way to go. So some figures that had been around for a while had their hooks and eyes ripped out
    ( it was a brutish age !) and these were replaced with bars. Sometimes this was not quite as successful as hooks and eyes as the trompe l’oeil effect of some see through ( and by this I mean those who had the space between their legs cut out …OUCH again!  yes… a very brutal age) figures, was lost…like George.

    George's feet and the bar visible through his ankles.

    The wistful early 19th century Norwich dog

    and the block behind. Strangers Hall Norwich Museum, Norfolk.
    Time goes on again and these bases become a bit unsteady in some cases. The blocks are removed and the base is squeezed into a rebated block.

    The very sweet, Sudeley Girl c.1630 Sudeley Castle Glos. with a *new* rebated stand.

    It’s now not so important for the figure to be trompe l’oeil. We are at the stage in history when it wasn’t so easy or so much fun any more, to deceive people into thinking that the dummy board was a real person or animal. Perhaps we had just had new windows installed ( ah yes…the equivalent of the double glazing salesmen were around then too!) so more light was flooding into the house. Maybe we were a bit more prosperous and so we had knocked down a few walls to make bigger rooms and so dark corners weren’t so readily available in which to hide our visual joke. And of course, we could afford more and better candles or gas lighting.
    Some of the figures we see have had an easel leg attached to the back or a fin like a triangle. These are much later and were basically so you could fold the leg or fin up and store the item when not displayed. You can see how some dummy board got folded up and stored in an attic and were forgotten about.

    The easel leg of the 19th c. Zealand Girl. By kind permission of the owner.

    The back of Elie the servant girl a PastMastery 4 ft figure. By kind permission of the owner.

    Sometimes the figures were rather heavy ( especially if they were made of oak ) and so additional weight was needed to help to keep them upright. Lead weights were then added to the backs, some of them rather pretty with delicate engraving on them. We do wonder if they were designed for some other purpose and then were added as an afterthought, to a dummy board figure ?
    And then there was the metal stand which I think we will find is a 19th century invention.The back of the very charming Thomas Wallace Esq. c. 1790 by kind permission of the owners.
    Metal was becoming cheaper to make and fashion and so cheaper to buy. By the end of the 18th century, beginning of the 19th, the Industrial Revolution was well underway and folk could afford to add a new fangled  shaped iron bar to their dummy board, old or new.

    The rather dishy Thomas Wallace c. 1790. and above his metal stand.

    So there we are. Why dummy boards have so many differing types of stands.
    And some, blessem’ have no stands at all!

    LOOK! No stands....The propped up pig! V&A museum London 19th c.

    I shall be away at the Wimborne Folk Festival in Dorset at the end of this week so there will be no more posts now till perhaps Tuesday of next week.

    I am not going there to tootle my flootle with the morris men, though there will be many sides there, 40 odd in all I’m told, but am going as a spectator for a change.

    I will take my pipes…just in case though….You never know..someone might need me…..  🙂

    Tootling on May Day in Brackley town square.


    Wish You Were Here.


    The PastMastery London Street display with several miniature dummy boards

    So here we are, standing outside a wonderful newly built town house in, let’s say -Kensington. It’s made of bricks which have been faced with stone and is all white, new and sparkly! It won’t be long before the coal smoke from thousands of house hold fires will blacken the pristine frontage and the mud and debris from the unmade road surface will splatter the face with specks and allow pollution to eat away the stone. But that is for the future. Now, we are happy to note, it all looks wonderfully clean and inviting. There are steps up to a rather imposing front door.

    Aha! a servant has opened it for us. He is rather smart and quite a beefy chap. Quite fanciable really…..if only we were allowed to fraternise with the underclasses…. 😉 Ah but we are at a masquerade. The tickets are reasonably priced and anyone can afford them. Here we can rub shoulders with all classes creating a wonderful frisson of the unknown, where one’s economic status is not to be automatically revealed by dress or conduct.

    The young man in livery V&A museum c.1745

    We draw our masquerade domino cloak around us to hide our costume and we pull our ‘Bahoo’ hood around our face and flutter our fan a little just to flirt a trifle with the servant in livery. The domino costume of the 18th century, represents adventure, conspiracy,  intrigue and mystery, four components that are an essential ingredient of the masquerade atmosphere. The language of the fan is known to both men and women….now…”leave me alone – I am unattainable” to ” yes…. I like the look of you….come closer”!

    The domino cloak and mask

    As I said he is a hulking chappie with broad shoulders and a rather flat nose ( maybe broken at one time ). I expect he is not only a hallway porter but a  footman/ bodyguard with the task of keeping disorderly folk out of the house. You wouldn’t wish to tackle him actually; he looks a bit of a bruiser!

    The masquerade of the eighteenth-century has, as we might expect, loud and fervent opposition from certain quarters. The anti-masquerade movement is led mostly by churchmen, pamphleteers ( those who write little diatribes on every vice ) and stuffy old newspaper men who cling to the belief that the masquerade is a vile threat to English moral society. There are always people who will decry anything that gives others pleasure aren’t there? 😉

    We shall take no notice and we shall whisk into the ballroom and engage who ever takes our fancy. is a Pierrot…accompanied by a Harlequin in his multicoloured tatters; the half mask upon his face and the round hat on his head. Shall we flutter our eyelashes and prettily pout at him over our fan.

    Arlecchino... a modern dummy board from Italy

    The sexual freedom that women might be exposed to at the masquerade, is often written about by detractors, as an example of the decline of English morality, the greatest peril of the masquerade.  It is dangerous,  they say, for respectable females, even those escorted by trusted male relatives, to engage in the “lude and explicit” multitude of the masquerade ( T. Castle: The  Masquerade and Civilisation p. 43 ) The anti-masquerade party equates such functions with the licentiousness of an unbridled  sexual act.  ( Crumbs!) The same double standard of contemporary culture about male and female sexuality transfers itself to the masquerade. Attendance by females is actually considered a criminal offence, and though it isn’t exactly encouraged, male attendance is tolerated. You can’t take your wife, your sister or your cousin…just in case your mistress might be there. PAH!

    Well…we don’t care! It’s fun and because it’s considered a bit risqué…it’s even more fun.

    Who shall we engage in conversation?

    There is we know, a specific code for verbal behavior at Masquerades. When masked party goers speak to one another, they employ pre -arranged phrases such as “I know you” or “Do you know me “in order to start up a conversation? These rules are important. They establish some order in  an otherwise chaotic environment. We shall remove our mask after the supper meal or after the midnight hour, when we shall all know with whom we have been dallying  and the old order shall be re- imposed.

    I am going to approach this fine fellow…. dressed as a Harlequin, a character from the Commedia dell’arte.

    He is rather dashing and trim in his tight costume.

    Dummy board of a Harlequin. 19th c. made of needlepoint.

    Oh bother! The voice betrays him ! To my ” Do you know me?” he replies ” I know you” and I find it’s my brother Ian……  😦  I flutter my fan in annoyance… and  turn away.

    Let’s have a look around and see who we can spot. Who on earth does she think she is in her ridiculous hat?

    German dummy board possibly 18th c. private collection

    And this rogue…..his owl is rather sweet though.

    Dummy board early 18th c. Chateau de Malle France

    This one looks like a right kill joy!

    German? possibly 17th but more likely 18th c. private collection in Italy.

    Ah….. that’s better. Let’s try this handsome fellow! We shall go forth to dance and then have a little supper. And then I shall see what I have caught.

    Ah goodness me! Apollo!

    You want to know what is underneath my  domino cloak don’t you…what my costume is…? I won’t keep you in suspense.

    Absolutely nothing! Durer, part of Adam and Eve

    Yes…. it was possible to go to a masquerade as Eve !  🙂

    Thanks to:…/masquerade/commonalities.html

    for help with this post.

    It’s Party Night!


    A while ago I wrote a post about us gadding around the 17/18th century London Streets in search of dummy boards. Spring in our Step

    If you remember we had gone home to change as we had been invited to a masquerade. – A party or assembly of people wearing masks and costumes and enjoying themselves with dancing, food and other diversions {ah yes…. we’ve heard about those..!} 😉 In courtly balls and midnight masks. Alexander Pope ( 1688- 1744 )

    A Lady with a domino. She has her half mask in her hand and her cloak is open but the man is better concealed.

    If I had lived in the 17th or 18th century and I had been a relatively wealthy person, I would have very much enjoyed dressing up and going off to a masquerade.

    This was the historical equivalent of the fancy dress party, disco, nosh -up  and the rave all rolled into one!

    The music may have been, for most of the time and for most of the people, quite refined, but sometimes the behaviour left a lot to be desired!

    It depended too, on where we had our little masquerade party. You see, you could go to a public one at say, a Pleasure Garden, or to a privately held one in one of the grand houses which were beginning to be built in the West End of London.

    A typical west end street 1720

    Nowadays we think of London as The West End really….not The City of London which would have been implicit in the term  in  the early  or mid 17th century. Bounded by its walls it was quite a small place really, with hundreds of thousands of people crammed into it. So the wealthy went West to escape the crush ( and the smell) …and built their country retreats in Kensington, Chelsea, Hammersmith, and Knightsbridge, mostly begun at the end of the 17th century. Hard to think of it now as ‘country’ but it was once. And this is where we shall be going for our Masquerade.

    It’s every girl’s party dilemma! What to wear?

    “I simply have nothing to wear.” Last year’s fashions simply will not do. Last month’s fashions will not do.

    A dummy board at the Chateau de Malle France 4ft. C. 1700. The latest fashions!

    Actually it doesn’t matter as we shall be wearing fancy dress! 🙂

    This doesn’t mean any of us shall be dressing up as Elvis or a Halloween vampire; we shan’t be donning a cowboy hat nor a ballet tutu ( all these fancy dress disguises have yet to be’ discovered’ of course), but we might wrap ourselves in a toga or float around in diaphanous layers of tulle, as a Greek Goddess. We might be seen sporting a feather headdress, as an Indian Prince ( native American of course); this was awfully fashionable in the age, as much of The known Americas had just been annexed and Indians were considered very exotic! Mind you, if you saw what kind of costume they were dressed up in, as a Native American Indians, you would either, depending on your point of view, weep for shame or laugh your socks off !

    A Cigar Store Indian..three dimensions but not too disimilar from the dummy boards

    By far the most fun costume ( and the one I probably would wear if I could manage to squeeze myself into the stays or corsets ) would be the Arcadian Shepherdess. Though I quite fancy a fairy!

    Want to be a 17th century fairy? Courtesy of Inigo Jones.

    The Greek and Roman world was just beginning to be re- discovered and with the archeological discoveries and the opening up of the appreciation of the beauties of the Ancient world, comes a fascination with all things Arcadian.

    What do we mean by this?

    We might summarise it as: any region or scene of simple pleasure and untroubled quiet. A  picturesque scene of Ancient Greece, where the people are engaging in countryside pursuits in utter contentment and rural happiness. All in a perfect landscape and climate; the Gods are happy and so ( because we aren’t being constantly  scolded by them!) consequently are we!

    Of course it’s a myth. Rather like Thomas More’s Utopia and some of these modern computer games where you build a land all to yourself, with all the best things you enjoy, in absolute perfection; it never did exist and it can’t  ever exist, but it’s nice to dream.

    So there we are all togged up in our fancy gear, our face painted with Venetian ceruse, also known as Spirits of Saturn, which was a 16th and 17th century fad, a cosmetic used to whiten the skin. It was greatly fashionable even though it contained a pigment of white lead, which would, with prolonged use, cause you to go bald….and mad. ( aha! So THAT is why they all wore wigs and I suppose it might explain some of the crazier aspects of 17th century politics!)

    Over this sumptuous costume, we shall pull a masquerade cloak or domino. This is an all enveloping black cloak, which reaches from head to floor, a hood to hide our hair, powdered of course with pomade…not always sweet smelling 😉 and on our face I think tonight, we shall wear just a couple of patches, one a crescent moon the other a little heart to show we are…< ahem> available, to hide any spots we might have ( our diet is a bit rich )  or Smallpox scars – well we all have’em! ;)…scars I mean. And just to complete the air of mystery, we shall don a small black half mask!

    The domino thrown back

    John Henry Mancur – in The Palais Royale comments

    Patches to cover your little imperfections!

    but there were many ladies, he remarked, in ample domino costume, whose cloak and short black mask, with its border of crape, could not conceal a stray tress or dimpled chin.

    Sure that’s not double chin eh?

    And Cinderella stays at home and peels the veg!

    The Chateau de Malle Peeler...alias Cinders. c. 1700 France

    Off we go in our Sedan chair, carried by two burly chaps, who also act as our minders and preceded by a little Link Boy, a small street urchin, probably, who scratches a living carrying flaming torches to light the way. The streets are none too safe after dark.

    Sedan Chair

    When we get close to the venue we can see that someone has set a dummy board outside the house, to advertise that there is a masquerade being held here.

    And what kind of figure would they put there?

    Why a ‘Domino’ one of course. With her black cloak to the floor, her face whitened, and her hand holding a lit candle fixed to a metal spigot, to light us to the door, she is the perfect advert for the festivities to come.

    The Aston Masquerade Girl c. 1700 private collection

    Here I think we can see what it might be like in our sedan chair. Ah… I think her wig has slipped! 😉

    Out we step; a servant runs forward to help us out….well the costume is heavy and rather wide. The panniers – little bustles worn on the hips…and sometimes NOT so little – the bustles I mean.not the hips ;)…the panniers can get stuck in the window of the Sedan chair. So of course can the wigs! They hadn’t yet achieved the crazinesses of the later 18th century but they could still be quite large confections of horse hair, flowers arrangements, jewels,  ribbons, lace and anything else you cared to pile onto them! And mice and fleas and lice but we shan’t go there…. LOL

    So here we are…and in the next post we shall make our entrance and peel off our cloak to reveal….

    Aha!…you’ll have to wait 😉

    Ready for the masquerade

    The Cat’s in the bag….or box!


    Time to go back to my miniature painting.

    The fireboard - painting finished

    And to the fireboard we have had on the go for a while now. Sorry to keep you waiting for it. 🙂

    The painting has been finished, the PVA applied, the rectangle of the body of the board has been cut and the struts to hold it upright have been fixed. It’s been painted black and had the PastMastery seal attached. Off it went in its little box to its new owner!

    This is what she said when she received it.

    Thank you for my little cats fireboard. It is a wonderful recreation. I enclose a picture of it in front of my fireplace which is a Victorian one. I haven’t finished it yet. It makes everything come to life! I looked at it through a magnifying glass, as you suggested. How can you paint so tiny on wood!? FIVE CATS – It’s truly amazing! Thank you again. I can see that I shall be having more boards for every fireplace in my house…and there are quite a few!

    It’s so nice when people share . And so, dear readers, here it is in situ.

    The Cat fireboard in a Victorian fireplace ( unfinished )

    I enjoyed doing this figure so much that I am set on painting some more fireboards for the Kensington show in December 2010. Let me know what you think. What would you like to see on a fireboard?

    The customer who wanted the full sized fireboard can’t find a design that she likes, so that is on hold for the moment. This leaves me a bit of time to make some stock. We shall document them of course as we go along.

    For the rest of this post, let’s talk about cats.

    Dogs and cats were incredibly popular as dummy boards towards the end of the 18th century and well into the 19th. We have seen a few on this blog already.

    The two sided cat 19th c. by kind permission of Sampson and Horne

    Some are quite realistic and others are quite sketchy. They are, by nature quite small and so have not fared as well as one might expect over the years,  as say, the larger figures of people. Why did people have them made? One theory is that they were portraits of well loved pets, an alternative to the stuffed variety….and we all know how much the Victorians enjoyed stuffing things! 😉 { no no… I mean taxidermy of course… and which of us hasn’t sat on one of those over filled Victorian button backed sofas and felt like we were perched on a pie crust?} Come to think of it they liked stuffing their faces too; this was the age of Mrs Beeton and puddings, pies and patisserie….wasn’t it? Say n’more…..

    My feeling is, that if these were pet portraits, we would have more information written on them to tell us where they were made and above all the name of the pet that was portrayed on the dummy board. This doesn’t generally happen.

    This ( below ) is one cat that is documented, though it tells us very little really.

    It’s a rather sad looking tabby cat kept at the Castle Museum in York, U.K.. Unusually, this figure is inscribed on the  back to ‘ Mrs. G. Lumen 1871 M. Fallowes’, but we  know nothing about either people. This particular quite simply painted cat is just over 18 inches high and has  quite a friendly expression. The original  was probably designed for a kitchen or a parlour and would  be  a suitable  fire side  figure  or would be
    very at home by the warmth of the 19th century cooking range.

    The naively painted York Cat

    Most of them have nothing on them at all. When painting pets today, I make sure that 1. I sign the thing, 2. I put the date on and 3. I put the name of the animal on it too. This even goes for the small mini figures which are accompanied by an explanatory leaflet for the historic replicas and a label on the box for the modern ones.

    So what were they? Like most other dummy boards, the only thing we can say with any certainty is they were decorative jokes.; little touches to hide round the house to make a guest jump, to try to make friends, maybe, and then laugh at their efforts. Grand Houses may have had their standing Greyhounds, their imposing Great Danes, the more humble house might have had a small cat, sat on a stool, a few kittens playing in a box or asleep on a cushion, a mother cat watchful and serene, or a single minded pussycat eyeing up an unsuspecting mouse.

    And talking of single minded pussycats.

    The first image here is one I made earlier. 😉  Her name is Flossie, she was three when I painted her a couple of years ago. The miniature figure ( less than an inch ) was modelled on the large dummy board I did of her for my friend Elisabeth, her owner. I even managed to find a tiny lead figure of a mouse for her to stalk! Poor wee thing. Perpetually terrified, never caught and put out of its misery! 😉 { the other figures you have probably seen in other posts }

    PastMastery cats

    Some figures of children can be found holding cats. The sort of figures made at the end of the 17th century beginning of the 18th were often to be found clutching animals. These were the ‘mass produced’ kind of dummy board, made by sign and coach painters of London,; the figures we find most commonly for sale  nowadays in antique shops online and elsewhere.

    These two were in the Metropolitan Museum in New York  in the U.S. until recently when they were sold out of the collection. We don’t know where to….but trusting my previous luck …I will find them one day.

    The young man holds a kitten in his hat.

    Kittens don’t have to be ‘the complete thing’. The nature of the beast means that they clamber over furniture and poke their little heads from behind cushions and chairs.

    There is a tradition in dummy boards that some were especially made to be part of a figure.

    There is a very famous half a man, called affectionately, Thomas Peartree, by none other than that superb English portrait painter, Thomas Gainsborough,  in the museum in Ipswich designed to sit atop a wall. He looks for all the world as if he is leaning on it. { We shall come to him one day }.

    So I thought it would be nice to do half a kitten, in the same vein and sit him in a box.

    Here he is. The figure acts as  a peg on the rim of the box.

    The PastMastery kitten in a box, based on a 17th century cat portrait.

    I think he might have his eye on the smallest animal dummy board I have done so far….

    The 1/12th Robin on a spade.Less than 1/2 a  centimetre!

    The PastMastery less than half a cm. robin on a spade

    But too quick by half for the cat! 🙂

    Closeup of the robin