Archive for July, 2010

“Flat mates”


I am back from my summer holidays and with you again.


It seems such a long time since I started this blog…yet it’s a mere five months.

I hope you have all enjoyed my rambles about dummy boards; that those of you that knew about them before I started, now know a good deal more and those who were not familiar with them at all, have been introduced to a whole new – and flat  😉 world. A Flat Earth… might say. Sometimes I do call dummy board figures, Flatties. They are, if you will forgive me…my Flat Mates! 😉

For those who have stumbled upon this blog by accident, I would, in a way, like to go back to the beginning and today, introduce the dummy board figure to you as if this were an almost completely new idea. For those who have been with me for the journey so far, I would like to re-cap, as it were and for those of you who are miniature fanciers as well as dummy board aficionados, I would like to tell one of the little illustrated stories, the sort that you have become used to over the past months, illustrating it with my own miniature painted replica dummy board figures.

On the side bar you will see an explanation of dummy boards and a couple of photographic examples. They are always there- on every post, of course. This is the carefully thought out definition which I use in my book, This Quiet Life, to explain what the historic dummy board was and IS .

These are flat paintings done on wood in the realistic style known as trompe l’oeil (literally, “deceiving the eye”) or illusionistic style of painting popular in the 17th century, then cut and shaped in outline to fabricate the figure of a person, an animal or an inanimate object.They are designed to be mistaken for the real thing, at a glance or at more prolonged inspection in the right light conditions.

Lady with red rose. PastMastery miniature 5 ins. from an Edwardian original

With this in mind…I would like to introduce you to *Peachie*. She will take over from here…..

The Baton Rouge Girl, 1680 PastMastery miniature 4 ins.

“My proper name, one which Sue gave me when she first discovered me, in the museum where I live, is The Baton Rouge Girl. As you might guess , I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the U. S. but I haven’t always been in this country. I was brought here…I can’t remember when… in the 20th century, by a rich family who had emigrated. I am probably a French antique. People think this because of my exquisite costume, particularly my striped petticoat which was the height of fashion in about 1680. I might however, be English. I am not, certainly, a product of that lowly cheese eating nation, the Dutch, or Lowlanders, as they are known. Most certainly not. { There was a great deal of anti- Dutch sentiment around at this time, we were at war with them for much of the 17th century on and off, and this dummy board is only voicing the sentiment of the day. Sue } To be fair, they were the ones to invent the dummy board about  a century ago.
I sat in a dark corner somewhere in a fashionable and wealthy house and looked out at you, rather coquettishly, willing you to come up and speak to me. Had you done so of course, I would not have answered you and you might have felt a bit foolish, talking to a painted figure. That is exactly why I was invented. To make you think I was real…to fool you…to make you laugh. And to show you what a fine and capital fellow my owner was!  I am, quite simply, a joke.
What’s that? My nickname? Well…it’s a bit of a mouthful to keep referring to me as the ’17th century seated figure of a lady with a fan’ so for ease of communication, when discussing me, the museum curator and Sue gave me another name. I became…Peachie……because I am such a tart!
I don’t mind….. I am.
I’m sure I’m meant to be.
Once, way back in the early 18th century when I was quite new and my paint was unscathed and shiny, I was sitting under the main staircase in the gloomy space by the wall. There was another of my colleagues by the outer door of the hall, a servant girl holding a candle.

The Candle girl PastMastery original. Mid 18th c. Private collection

A card party had just finished and the real servants were lighting the departing guests to the front door. One of the gentlemen, resplendent in his full bottomed wig, hurried to the door, fished in his pocket and brought out a handful of coins. He tried to make the maid take them. She wouldn’t. He tried again a bit more forcefully. Everyone was milling around him trying to get past but of course the ladies in their panniered dresses couldn’t manage it.
” Damn you FitzHerbert, Sir! ” cried the gentleman, ” You have dashed rude servants!”
Everyone fell about laughing. The servant girl just smiled. She had done her job very well. She had fooled the old codger into thinking she was a real servant.
Most of us nowadays are to be found in museums and Stately homes, castles and art collections. A few of us live in private homes with proud owners who display us along with their other fine furniture and objets d’arts. We are, after all, works of art – a combination of the skill of the cabinet maker with that of the sign painter or coach painter. I don’t like to boast, but it’s rather unlikely, I think, that I was painted by one of the artisan
class. I am far too fine and < ahem> professional. I was probably painted by a proper artist……so I am a bit above the rest..don’t you know.  😉

Girl with orange. PM original 2.5 inches high. Early 17th century.Wilberforce House U.K. Another figure probably painted by a portrait artist.

When I was first made, houses were dark and had small and poorly glassed windows. Even in daylight you might mistake my kind for a real person…..the better painted ones anyway and to be truthful, the early ones were beautifully painted in the main. I am, for example, obviously a portrait ( and before you ask…no I have no idea who I am. I’m not signed or dated, few of us are ). I must be copied from life, as I’m so realistic. And rare, naturally. { You may have gathered, Peachie is a snob! Sue }

There are quite a lot of little figures of children who were painted at about the same time as me, 1680. They were definitely painted by sign and coach painters,( in London actually ) and were churned out by the hundred, you would say today, mass produced, as much as anything hand painted can be. These irritating little imps are everywhere. You can’t visit a posh house nowadays without they are round your feet simpering and pouting, their little gloved hands flicking open a fan, their silly faces grinning as they offer you a small lapdog or a kitten to stroke. { Actually, Peachie is being unkind here, some of them are very sweet. As you can see. Sue }

The Trerice Pair. National Trust. PM miniatures not quite three inches. Note the tiny crackle glazing.

I have a lot of friends in the dummy board world. My most influential friend resides in London. He is a Wealthy Gentleman of the late 17th century, who lives at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Like me, he is a portrait figure and was probably painted by a good artist in the late 17th century. He would have been positioned, like myself, in a dark corner, at the end of an enfilade ( a series of rooms, one opening onto another,)  in the space  under a staircase, or by a door. Sue calls him Lord Fancypants, which is most impertinent!

The Gentleman with Cane at the V&A museum. Thanks to Nina Scott Stoddart for the photo. He is seen here in her William and Mary Dolls house.

One of my acquaintances is a Dutch lady of the late 16th century who lives in Sudeley Castle in England.. She is very unfortunate, in that she is only half a dummy board, from the knees up. She is so old that her memory is going a bit, poor thing, and she can’t remember if she was made this way, or if she had a nasty accident and had to have her legs amputated! I suppose sitting for centuries on damp flagstones with woodworm eating into your body doesn’t do much for you….She is, I would say, half the lady she was.  😉

The Half a lady at Sudeley Castle Glos. UK late 16th century

One girl I know has a soldier boyfriend. He was made in the 18th century and is a very rare American figure. He told me wonderful story.
He is in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania but he is actually a British grenadier, a regiment of whom were sent out to deal with the rebels in the Colonies  and attributed to the gifted amateur painter and ill fated British Major John André, who was tried as a spy in America and eventually hanged and was buried in Westminster Abbey,( ooh -er! )  It is said this figure was created as an advert for the Old Southwark Theatre in Pennsylvania  which had been reopened after the British occupied the city in November 1777.

Major Andre's dummy board. In private collection in the U.S.

This dummy board may also have had a more decorative function for it might have been part of a group of similar figures created as a mock guard of honour. Some of this type of soldier were incredibly lifelike.
Miss Sally Wister, the daughter of a prominent Philadelphia family, in her diary of 12th December 1777 tells us that this grenadier, in particular, was six foot high of great realism and martial appearance and that it was used in a practical joke .
“at the time of the bid for American Independence. This British Grenadier was able to so startle a visitor to the house, Captain Tilley rebel officer and Republican supporter, that he fled the building for fear that the British had arrived in force, leaving behind his feathered hat!”
Well….what do you expect from a Colonial? { Oh dear…here she goes again!  Sue}
What they needed was a large fierce dog, to keep the rebels out. Here is one of my acquaintance. A large 17th century Mastiff called Johnson…named for the 18th century gentleman scholar and all round  bon viveur and gourmand.

Johnson the Mastiff from a Van Dyck painting...before he is cut out. PastMastery miniature

And here not too far away of course is his friend and biographer, Boswell…. a nice little 19th century dog.

The West Highland Terrier, a PastMastery mini before he is cut out. Just over an inch.

So you see not only people were made as dummy boards. Anything you care to mention can be painted as one….. though you might have to be very clever indeed to paint a life sized dummy board…. of a bacteria…..
Come to think of it…why ever would you need one?
How do I know about such things? Things that were not known about in my day? I’m such a clever dummy board………”
{That’s the end of that Peachie….. that will do for today…. I think we get the idea. Sue}

A Second Career?


I have before, on this blog, talked about figures that are copied one from another.

Today we have another example….. with a slight difference.

In a document of  1966 we are told that a certain dummy board of a man was in a private collection somewhere in Europe  and a black and white photo was included so that we can see what he looked like.

The man with the punting pole. 18/19th century Belgium. Private collection

We have seen enough Dutch and Flemish figures on this blog to recognise a regional costume when we see one. The large silvery buttons are a bit of a give away! He looks very like the Zeeland Boy from our post “Me Old Dutch”

He was seen in tandem with a figure of a woman with a pannier of fish.

The Fisherwoman 18/19th century Dutch. Private collection, possibly from a series of Cries of London

So, imagine my surprise when one of my spies turned up this figure last year!

The punting man ...number two- at a Somerset Museum 19th c.

The very same man.

These sorts of figures were often painted in pairs, rather in the style of the Arcadian porcelain figures being made at the time by Meissen and Coalport.

Many of these are obviously early 19th century and belong to that band of figures that peopled the pleasure gardens of that era. We might have seen one or two when we were parading around in the post Cuckoo’s Nest. We can tell they have had a hard life as they are often quite worn and weathered, scratched and dented.
They were made largely in the late 18th and early 19th century and few that I have seen are of real merit artistically, though I am willing to admit there may be many fine ones I do not yet know about. The two above, quite good ones of the late 18th century, were in the collection of Mrs. A Post in the 1970’s and were known to have been bought in Belgium in the 1860’s. A companion pair, the man holds a punting pole and the woman two full fish pails slung across her shoulders. The woman is copied from “ The Basket Carrier” a series of pictures of ‘The Cries of London’ by  Matthias de Sallieth, the 18th century engraver. The cutting out of these figures is quite remarkable with all available ‘background’ cut away from the back board in a way which makes them very three dimensional and allows them to throw very convincing

The fisherman  above has been copied in the late 18th or early to mid 19th  century and the figure has been languishing in the store room at the museum in Taunton, Somerset U.K. until it was unearthed in a cataloguing excercise in 2006.
The figure is painted in reverse, ( we have seen that phenomenon before),  stands 117.5 cms high and is 63 cms wide with a bevelled edge that is 2.5 cms thick. The back, which is painted a uniform dark brown, has a large block at the base which enables the figure to stand. It is very interesting to note that the original intention has been misinterpreted by the later painter and the punting pole carried by the first dummy board has been painted with a mop head instead of the ‘splash’ of water shown in the original. What a laugh! 🙂

He can come and clean my floors any time!

Perhaps he had had enough of being a fisherman and has retrained…..? 😉
This dummy board was a gift of the Right Honourable Mrs. A. Lawley to the Somerset Archeological and Natural History Society in 1951 ( PSANHS XCVll p.37 ) TTNCM. Thanks to Somerset Museum at Taunton for permission to use the photo.

I am away for two weeks now on my annual hols. See you when I get back.

“I like coffee, I like tea….”


Last we heard of us, in our 17th/18th century incarnations, we had just beat a hasty retreat from the Pleasure Garden. What a lovely time we had there, spoilt only by some rowdys who rampaged through the garden, snatching off wigs and hats, tipping the ladies on their bustles, pushing old gentlemen into the ponds and fountains, and generally disturbing the peace of the Garden with their raucous laughter and ribald comments.

This could be Flipin Bothersome or one of our Roaring Boys! Early 18th century dummy board private collection.

Sounds like today in some ways doesn’t it?

We shall leave The Right Honourable Flipin Bothersome and his friends to their amusements and take our carriage home.

The gentlemen amongst us might be tempted to let the ladies go off to their tea in the drawing room whilst we take up our walking canes, set our wigs firmly on our heads, draw our coats close around us against the slight and cool summer breezes of the early morning….( remember we were at the Gardens until the birds began to trill the dawn chorus), and march off to the coffee house to see what news we can gather.

The coffee house of the 17th century is another of those places to see and be seen. Not for the ladies though. They are barred from such establishments. The only women you might find there are the maids serving the drinks and they are likely to be hidden behind a curtain. The early coffee house is rather like a gentleman’s club but not quite so elite, as yet.

The Chocolatier. Mid 18th c. dummy board Private collection. Not coffee but never mind!

Coffee came into the country in the middle of the 17th century but we wouldn’t recognise it today. It came firstly to Oxford in about 1650 and one of the first houses to be called a coffee house is still in existence there today. The first London coffee house was established in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill in 1652. The proprietor was Pasqua Rosée, the servant of a trader in Turkish goods named Daniel Edwards, who imported the coffee and assisted Rosée in setting up the establishment.

Great social levellers, the coffee house is open to all levels of society and as a result many business dealings are  transacted there. At Will’s coffee house, one can read the papers, write letters, read the scandal  sheets that were put out daily, chat with friends, debate and discuss the day’s doings, buy and sell, create an interesting  rumour yourself and perhaps make an addition to the scurrilous gossip flying around and…yes – drink coffee. The monarch has tried to repress these places as being

places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers

but I’m afraid it’s like trying to pin jelly to the wall….the people flock to them and…well…. enjoy them too much.

Here we can speak our minds. Royalist or Republican.

Let’s take ourselves off to Johnathan’s  in Exchange Alley in the newly built area of London devastated by the Great Fire in 1666.

The plaque commemorating the coffee house

So here we are in front of the building. Tucked into an alleyway, in a street where messengers pass up and down the runnels fetching and carrying all manner of goods and bit and bobs. There are many businesses crammed into this part of town and business is brisk between them. We push our way in.

The George and Vulture coffee house ...but not so unlike the late 17th century establishment

And manage to purchase our can of coffee, a tall cup rather like a flower pot from the girl in a special booth and look around us to see who we know and who we can join for a gossip.

Aha!…there neatly fitted into a corner we can see Sir Bumptious Grandly. He is a wealthy old codger but claims to be poorer than the King! ( Remember Charles 11 has been on the throne for a while now, but is still the most impecunious monarch going!)

Sir Bumptious Grandly actually the V&A Man with Cane c. 1690

Sir Bumptious  is scribbling furiously on a piece of paper and scratching his head,under his enormous ( and  dare we say it, lice ridden ) wig. He’s signing something.

“What News?” we cry loudly. This is the traditional greeting when entering the coffee house……nowadays more to indicate that we have arrived than to elicit  a response.

We manage to squeeze onto a bench and open the paper which is on the coffee stained table in front of us.

Goodness….” A PLOT TO KILL THE KING!”..We want nothing to do with it. We shall not even read it….it’s scary stuff.

Are they plotting do you think?

Inside the coffee house. ( both Museum of London)

Shall we take a sip of coffee? It is supposed to be good for our nerves!

UGH…I shall never get used to the taste…it’s like drinking burnt shoe leather! There is no milk or cream in it at this stage as there might be today perhaps. We drink it black with sugar…have to have sugar in it…Without it, it’s just like hot mud! Piping hot mud. And bits in the bottom just like mud too – can’t drink the cup to the dregs.

Maybe that’s why they say it’s ‘ground coffee’…. Ha ha!  😉

I prefer tea but that, my dears, is a ladies drink…so though I might have it at home, here…I have to swallow cups of this filthy stuff to save face!

We turn the page in the newspaper. Yes…newspapers are new too. Here, in the coffee house we can find many to read. Newspapers, I don’t think we would recognise either, as there are no photos of course and the columns of writing are very different to the way we see them now in the 21st century. There are adverts. Some things never change.

But the adverts themselves are decidedly different.{Of course, my friends and I are used to reading these things. For f read s.

Mmm….I think I might like to go and have a look at one of these ” Figuref ” that Mr Peter Pallete Painter paints. I think a nice dummy board in my hallway would be just the ticket! I should very much like to show my erudition and superb taste ( I HAVE been on The Grand Tour you know), by having a visual joke of a Black boy figure standing in the shadows under my staircase. That would please my rich friends greatly!

Now…who else is here at the coffee house? Ha! I catch the eye of my  neighbour, The Reverent Measly Mindful in his Puritan black, his copintank hat, sitting on the table beside him, tall as a Wren tower! He too is scribbling furiously and I lean over him to see what he is penning. Oh…another of his “tracts” denouncing the Theatre. A Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage.

The sugar loaf hat often called the copintank

PAH! SHORT it is NOT…. I can see what he has written in his sloping and crabbed style, if I screw up my eyes…Three points especially draw forth his denunciations: the so-called lewdness of the plays, the frequent references to the Bible and biblical characters, and the criticism, slander and abuse flung from the stage upon the clergy.

Well nothing to worry about there! 😉

Nothing like a bit of lewd or politically inflammatory theatre to lift the spirits! Saw a damn fine play the other day by Aphra Behn ( one of the only women writers to gain fame…or should I say notoriety?) and outside to advertise the play was a fine dummy board…complete costume of an African Maid. Loved it! Womanliness personified! 😉

An 18th century possibly earlier dummy board figure of a female "African" warrior woman. There were some strange ideas about how they looked I think.

I’m not going to drink the rest of this muck! I reach behind me and pour the remainder into a potted plant ( yes we have those too….it’s looks a bit sick..I wonder if I am not the only one to jettison my coffee there?)

Back to the NEWS! A young man with a magnificent blue waistcoat enters…..” What News?” he cries. It’s that Irish rogue  Con Flagration. Been bitten by him before. He’s telling everyone that for a paltry sum they can make sure that their house, goods and chattels can be replaced, should a fire break out in their house! HUM! Fine chance of that. You would hand over the money and he would be gone in a flash! And he would probably fire your house into the bargain. No I’ll hang onto my pennies.

19th c. dummy board of an unknown man taken from an 18th c.painting. private collection. Switzerland

My meek and mild friend, Clearly Fragile the glass importer, enters. He lives on the other side of the street to me and plies his trade on the Southern bank of the Thames. He’s a wealthy man. Glass is a thriving luxury business. Oh no…he is parting with money…and I’m not quick enough to stop him. Ah well….

Dummy board of an unknown man. 18th c. Museum of fine arts (store), Boston U.S. with a passing resemblance to Mr. Fragile? 😉

I take a look at the paper he is given. Might as well be a page from a fairy story. He has been well and truly duped.

I’ve had enough of this….. I’m for home.

I step out onto the street, minding the filthy runnel in the very middle, full of all sorts of flotsam and jetsam. My  fine new silk stockings are spattered with mud as a carriage passes. I shake my fist. The carriage stops and out pops my friend Sir Filthy Looks. ” Oh Sir Filthy ” says I ” I didn’t know it was you”.

He apologises and lets me ride home in his superbly decorated carriage. ” Just taken delivery of it from the carriage painters”, he says…. “lovely work” I peer at the door of the carriage. Two entwined lovers, in a somewhat <ahem> gymnastic pose, naked as  plucked geese, freely sport on the panel, surrounded by roses and  little cherubs. ” Lovely indeed” I say and smile to myself. When I have my carriage painted it will knock this one into a cocked hat! I’ll get that Peter Pallete to do it when I get my dummy board done.

” Smoke” says Sir Filthy….” I smell smoke!”

“Nonsense “says I

” NOoooooooo!” I look out of the window. My house is on fire….all my lovely things!

I scramble from the carriage and head for the front door. My servants are all out in the street, some sobbing, some staring, one is even holding the broom she had in her hand when she fled the house.

The V&A sweeper mid 17th century.

” Come on you scurvy slubberdegullions   ” I cry ” in there and rescue my things.”

Hello hello…who do we have here lurking in the shadows, where the light of the flames cannot reach? It’s young Con Flagration.

“Should’ve listened to me” he says, waving a piece of paper. “If my house goes up, I got pounds and pounds to build it up again..better than before…all mod cons. And built in brick with stone. It’s called

I n s u r a n c e”

He tuts….” Should’ve listened to me….”