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

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