“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…..you 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}

One Response to ““Flat mates””

  1. bonsmots Says:

    Flat mates indeed. Groannnnn…. ;-}

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