A Famine of Figures

After a bit of a quiet time, in the miniature dummy board world, { though I have been busy with portraits) I have a new commission.

Sally would very much like a Governess with a child for her miniature Georgian Nursery. It seems that Nurseries are the order of the day as I know at least, three people, at the moment, working on them.

I have trailed round the usual places for an image for quite a while now and surprisingly, failed to some up with anything useful. Why don’t I just use a real dummy board, I hear you cry?

Well…., that’s just the thing. There aren’t any. Not that I have come across. So we shall have to make one specially.

Up comes Teresa to the rescue.


One of the very good things about being in a group like Artisans in Miniature, ( both Teresa and myself are proud members ) Artisans in Miniature

is that one can call on the group to help out with *finding things*, be they a bit of ribbon or a mini maker, a special technique or a fancy bibelot for your own dolls house. Or as here, an image.

Teresa has kindly allowed me to use one of her images as a base for my Nursery group.

The Georgian Governess and her charges. Photo courtesy of Teresa Thompson

I shall move them around a bit and add some decoration to the materials of their clothing. This I can do by taking a photo of a real Georgian fabric and superimposing it on my chosen image.

Something like this sort of thing.

A lovely waistcoat or petticoat pattern don't you think?

You see the client will want d e t a i l ..they always do.

I think it would be fun to do all four figures together one in front of another almost. It will give me a bit more a of a challenge in painting the different poses and shadows etc. I always like a challenge! 😉

I must rush off now and start to prepare the board for painting. If you remember, it has to be painted with an oil based primer both sides so that the oil paint will stick to the surface and so that it won’t warp when cut out. No one wants to pay for something that warps after a short while, though I have to say I have seen plenty of real dummy boards, full size that have done a good job of warping, cracking and splitting!

What I would like to do also, is base the painting of my face on an existing Georgian dummy board, for the Governess.

Every age has its *look.* Each era has a special characteristic which sets it apart from  another, quite apart from clothes.

This is one way we can attempt to date a full sized historical dummy board.

Dummy boards, you see, have been made from the early 17th century to the present day ( well alright, historic ones …let’s say, to the 19th century), so it can be quite difficult to date them without taking costume out of the account. Quite a few figures look as if they might be 18th century but are in fact 19th, for example and one of the ways we can tell, is by the look of the facial features.

The appearance of the face in a dummy board is generally a good indication of the age of the figure, though it can’t be absolute proof of history. It has often been said that, for example, some of the painters of the mid 17th century created portraits of their female sitters which are distinguishable only by the slight changes in dress and colour! Deary me. 😉

P.G. Patmore an early 19th century author of ‘British Galleries of Art’ described passing through the’ Beauty Room’ at Petworth House in Sussex, containing

“some of Charles’s beauties – all alike- ” ( Charles 2nd’s mistresses ).

British Galleries of Art Patmore G.& W.B.Whittaker 1824

One contemporary of Sir Peter Lely ( 1618-1680 ), King Charles 2nd’s principal painter who painted many of the court ladies of the time, said that:

“ when he had painted the Duchess of Cleveland’s ( Barbara Villiers ) picture, he put something of her face as her Languishing Eyes into every one picture, so that all his pictures had an air of one another, all the eyes were sleepy alike so that Mr. Walker ye painter swore Lilly’s pictures was all brothers and sisters ”
( English Art 1625-1714 OUP 1957, page 174. Whinney and Millar )

Lely made several images of Barbara between 1662 and 1668 and these did indeed become the pattern for the concept of beautiful Restoration Womanhood.
It is doubtful that portraits of Barbara Villiers would inflame the blood of the average 21st century male today but in the 17th century she was considered the icon of feminine perfection- the ‘pin -up’ of her day; the Marylin Munro or the ‘James Bond girl’ of her age to be

“lusted after by all men and copied by all ladies of the Haute Monde.”
( All the Kings Women  Derek Wilson  p. 145 )

Engravings of her portraits were sought after. Indeed Pepys noted in his diary that in December 1666, he bought three copies

“ which is, as to the head, I think, a very fine picture and like her”

Duchess of Villiers, Barbara Villiers. Not a nice lady, by all accounts.

The self portrait of the woman poetess and artist Anne Killigrew ( 1660- 1685 ) also shows us a little of the conventional late 17th century face, so often delineated by Lely. The 17th century playwright Dryden, described this portrait rather baldly as displaying “ a well proportion’d Shape and beauteous Face” but in these round cheeks, high forehead, full mouth and fine long nose framed by flattering thick curls, we might just be able to detect something more individual and intelligent, restrained and disciplined- a different character, from Villiers altogether. ( Thank Heavens…the woman was a veritable monster!) 🙂

Anne Killigrew

By contrast, in the person of Jane Myddleton,  ( born 1645 ) the daughter of Sir Robert Needham are to be found the ideal features of 17th century beauty, as laid down in the ‘rules’ of the time. This lady had the perfectly oval face with the exalted smooth forehead and “high temples” of The Ladies Dictionary ( a popular manual of the time ), finished off with the neat little chin. In this lady we see the nose neither too big nor too small, the mouth petite and with the perfect cupid’s bow  at the upper lip, all surmounted by fine arched brows. Here too we see the womanly rounded figure, the perfect decolletage – and above, the “two little worlds of beauty” which prompted the 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys admiring her at the Theatre one day to say that she was possessed of a

“ very excellent face and body, I think”.

Jane Myddleton

Pepys, ever the roving eye but nevertheless, a discerning judge of female beauty, knew many of the King’s mistresses and ladies of the court personally and in his diary commented that these ladies were accepted as the leaders of fashionable taste.

And so High Fashion of the time dictated that a ‘beauty’ should be full lipped and sensuous with hooded eyes, just as during the years of the Renaissance a high smooth forehead and a long neck, white skin and thin eyebrows were considered the epitome of beauty. ( see Christopher Hibbert – English Social History )

Medieval women at work. Note the high forehead, plucked of hair, the thin silhouette and the whiteness of the skin. Not just an accident of painting!

Looking at 17th and 18th century dummy board figures we can see this similarity in style and fashion for they too show the ‘face of the age’ but we need a degree of circumspection when setting them in their historical context. I think you can see by the three examples here, what was the “look of the 17th century”.

So it might be a good idea to try to replicate the * historic face * of the 18th century in our Governess figure. IN the later 18th century it was fashionable to be girlish, quite voluptuous and have large dark eyes. We only have to look at Emma Hamilton to see an example of that and we know she was considered absolute perfection at this time.

Nothing could be more beautiful than her countenance or more commanding than her figure at this time; the first had an unusual mixture of angelic softness

. . the other . . . would equally have served for the splendour of an Imperial throne, or the couch of voluptuous sensuality. (Sherrard 232)

Emma Hamilton

So we need something a bit peaches and cream.

What about something like this….

A dummy board of a servant girl ( better stick to the right class!) with just the right sort of face. Let’s see if we can use her.

A figure from Sweden. Lady with Tray mid 18th century.

More to come later about this new commission. Next… transferring the pattern to the board.

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