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. 🙂

2 Responses to “Four by Four”

  1. Louise Says:

    Hello Sue,

    I love your owl and the fox. They are my favourites.

    Best wishes,

  2. pastmastery Says:

    Thanks Louise
    I’m glad you like them.

    There will be more in the wild life series this summer.

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