Archive for September, 2010

Double Standards?


You do love my little trips into the 17th/18th century don’t you? 🙂 ( well…you tell me you do ).

I like writing them! And since I am sitting here feeling sorry for myself for developing a nasty case of the head cold ( or in 17th century speak a rheum ), and I don’t fancy doing any painting ( my nose would dribble too much anyway), we shall shoot off again into that fascinating century.

We have been to a Masquerade and a Masque. We have sampled the delights of the coffee house. We have rambled along the streets of the capital, discovered the delights of the Pleasure Garden and the Royal Hospital at Chelsea.

Where else is there for us to go?

Well…yes we could go to church!

But in the 17th century that wasn’t terribly exciting or adventurous. Unless you were a recusant!

Now, a recusant was someone who refused to attend the services of the Church of England. They might originally have been a Catholic ( when of course the accepted Church was that of Protestantism, here in England Scotland and Wales. ) who still hankered after the Mass in Latin. They may have been simply disaffected with the accepted Church, or they may have been just plain pagan. Yes, there were still, in certain rural parts, people to whom Christianity was a mystery, people who had never really engaged with it. Thankfully.

II you were caught, you were fined hugely. You might have been imprisoned too. And occasionally you might have died for your faith…or lack of it. So most people paid lip service to the conventions  and avoided trouble. Or they paid the fines.

No, not exciting – unless you have a preacher upon whose every word you can hang? ( Sometimes literally!)

Let’s nip into one of those newly re- built churches of London; the ones that were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and see what the theme of the day is. If we sit at the back…we can easily slip out again! 😉

St. Benet Fink in London before it was demolished in the 19th century.

Let’s slide in to the back pew of *St. Benet Fink, ( I kid you not..a silly name I own it….but a true one.) on Threadneedle Street. There is a sermon going on.

” And I say unto you, you have sinned…sinned and are stooped in filth…” Aha! One of Pillock’s.

No…genuinely. The Reverent Pillock. His full Baptismal name is – Praise In Loud Lyrics Oh Contumacious Kindred. The Reverent Kindred, but he is ever known as Sin and Damnation Pillock! ( Truly they DID have some strange names at this time…I’m not pulling your leg!)

The Reverent Pillock perhaps?

” Exasperate your hearts, you know it to be true. In the deepest well of your being you are wading in sin. Lift your eyes to the Heavens  and ask God to reach down and execute you, for you are in dire need of  Saveloy.”

Ah yes…his other name, his nickname if you like is, Drivel Pillock! He was wounded in the head at the battle of Edgehill in the Civil War and ever since then he has been unable to q u i t e achieve the right word….in the right place. A Mr. Malaprop.

There is a full house. There always is. His sermons are an education.

” People may say- God has fornicated us…yes…he has completely constricted us to the depths of Satan’s dwarf!”

Ah yes….

There’s a lot of nodding of heads and tittering of…well…titters.. 😉

We look around.

Ah… Mrs. Bunintheoven. Now she is a recusant, a Catholic from Ireland. But she doesn’t mind coming to church to show of her fine clothes and her brood of children. 11 now and…we see there is another on the way.

Mr. Bunintheoven isn’t here. He is a Master Baker and has dispensation to be at home…baking. He works all night and sleeps by much of the day. Mmm, and other things.

Lady and baby 1680 Dutch .Mrs Bunintheoven?

Sitting right at the front, is a stalwart of the church, Patience Isavertu. She is married to that old codger ( at least thirty years her senior ), Diligence Isavertu. They are Hugenots and have come over from the Continent where they were persecuted for their Puritan faith. Here they have found a nice place amongst the artisans of London and are well known for the fine fabric they weave. And Mrs. Isavertu is noted for her lovely embroideries.

Mr & Mrs Isavertue? A very rare early 18thc. double dummy board from Bolling Hall Yorks. U.K. by kind permission of the owners.

The Reverent has worked himself in to a froth. A right Royal prickle. < ahem>.

“….from Clerical times, there has been an idea of feminine booty. An ideal sought after, fraught over. A kind of Holy Gruel!”

His favourite theme…women and their vanity, men and their lusts?

“Men have sought to possess, to own the immaculate ( Heavens..he got that one right!). “Was not Helen of Troy the face that lunched a thousand shops?”

Mmmmmmm. 😉

” But a wicked woman who was unfashionable to her husband. A parasol of beauty but nevertheless the acne of  adulterous woman kind.”


The Reverent is summing up after two hours of rant! He is very fond of all words ‘dirty’.

“Foulness is amongst us. Some people are veritable sowers. ” Mrs Isavertu looks up, a frown on her brow. English of course isn’t her first language.In her head she is listening to her own tongue but her ears hear something quite different. Does he mean that people who are sewers are corrupt? She pinches her lip with her teeth. Oh dear, she doesn’t look very happy.

” Middens…. their lives are middles with all the filmy rhubarb, the nosy besmirching pollination one can imagine.”.

Goodness…poor Mrs. Isavertue, looks ready to burst into tears.

” All will be saved…. God is Mercurial. He will forgive. Search your lives, every corner, every dim regress, every crook and fanny. Confess, stitch out your homes to his measliness.”

Poor Patience looks a little better.

Girl with black gloves. Mid 18thc. Chateau de Malle France.

She catches the eye of a rather pretty woman in a saffron gown holding a fan in her black gloved hand. A series of emotions passes over her face. Surprise, she scowls- annoyance, she tosses her head up- pride, she smiles with her mouth ( not her eyes )- sarcasm?

This is Widow Ophra Mann, from the other side of the river. What is she doing here? She belongs amongst the lower class of Southwark, the stews and bath houses, the roaring public alehouses and the ( God forbid) theatres!

She is an actress! And we all know what THAT means.

The congregation is ready to go home. Patience lifts her eyes to the church roof.

A crucifixion dummy board set. Church in Cyprus 19th c.? By kind permission of Dr. Clare Graham

However did this manage to escape the rigorous iconoclastic purges of the past few years?

Double standards of course…. do one thing…profess another. Patience Isavertue ‘harrumphs’ in irritation and stands ready to file into the aisle.

” Oh how nice to see you once more Mrs. Mann.” says the Reverent as the pretty lady passes.He pumps her hand enthusiastically ” I trust you are in good stealth? ” Ophra Mann frowns…and then the brow clears,

” Yes indeed Reverent. I am well. I am staying with my married sister Mrs. Amanta Fleece in the city. Perhaps you might care to visit?”

There is a whispered conversation and the two part.

“Mmm?” thinks Patience, ” there is more to this than meets the eye !”

Mrs Isavertue takes a turn around the newly refurbished church. White walls, no painting. Good. No statues. Good.  But what is THIS?

Aaron, early 18thc. Church in the East of England

A dummy board figure of an Old Testament saint! High up in the rafters of a side chapel. Whatever do they want him for?

And on the other side another one to match!


Moses early 17thc. ditto above

(One of a pair of Double Standups!!),

They think they are beautifying the church but graven images are not needed in such a holy place. One needs to focus the mind. Plain white walls and a lack of decoration does that perfectly.

She stomps out after her elderly husband, the last to leave.

” Thank you Reverent Pillo…..Kindred for a most edifying sermon. ” he is heard to say.

Dilligence makes his way slowly ( he is a bit bent with all that leaning over the loom), down the street.

The Reverent Pillock locks the church and hurries away!

“Pah” says Patience. “We all know where he is going.”

It’s a well known fact that the Rev has got a thing going with The widow Mann.

All this talk of sin and damnation. Needs to look into every dim regress and crook and fanny of his own soul. And him a married man. Disgusting. I’d have nothing to do with it all. Not catch me fraternising with…”

” Mrs Isavertue..” Patience hears her name and turns. The pretty lady is tripping lightly over the churchyard to greet her.

Patience smiles.

” Oh Mrs Mann I’m so ploosed to see you. Your new kirtle, the one I have been embroodering with rises, will be ready next week. Would you like to call for a farting?”

“Indeed I would, thank you. ” is the reply.

Ah well…… needs must when the Devil drives… Poor Patience says to herself!


The new kirtle embroodered with rises? Chateau de Malle girl with fan. Mid 18thc. French.


The Masque’s Slipt’


Let’s once more explore that enigmatic art form – the dummy board figure and slip back into the early 17th century when windows were smaller and less transparent, houses were darker, candlelight and firelight were all that was available after dark.

A party! We have been invited to a party! Not just any old party but a MASQUE!

Masque involves music and dancing, singing and acting, with elaborate costumes and stage get ups which generally presents a deferential allegory flattering to the patron.That is – being nice and flattering the person who has paid for it! Professional actors and musicians have been hired for the speaking and singing parts. And the masquers who shan’t speak or sing- are to be -US! We shall parade around in fancy costumes, posture a bit, eat drink and make merry. Bit like theatre only more so. Many of the themes chosen for masques are mythological. So we shall be given a costume that is appropriate for the theme. is mine just being delivered now….

O my giddy aunt! I can’t wear that…it’s got no….. it’s indecent. And besides…she’s got no bosom! I am a lady of architectural frontage, I can’t go about with no visible means of support, like a cantilever staircase!

I won’t be the only one I can assure you….. Ah well….maybe….

So I don my costume and off we go. The masque is being held in a very large house, almost a palace, on the river so many will be arriving by boat. This will allow for special effects as a backdrop to the masque and firework barges kept on the river for later entertainment, when the sun goes down. These events can go on all day and night.

We head for the refreshments pavillion. ( of course!)

Now if you are thinking that we will be indulging in the King of beverages, the Greatest of all some would say…Champagne…well no… it hasn’t been invented yet, though it won’t be long. Another few years and we will be seeing it as a slightly thin bubbly and pale pink drink which the makers think is undrinkable! They are at this stage trying to get the bubbles OUT! We shall have to content ourselves with nice reds and sweet whites.

Drink in hand we mingle.

There’s a handsome fellow polishing the glasses. Name of Tommy. Friendly chappie, listing a bit to starboard,  looks like he’s had one to many already! 🙂

Tommy, mid 18th century dummy board at the Museum of York. By kind permission of the Castle Museum.

So let’s take a look around and see how many faces we recognise.

There’s Mme. Fullbosom, Countess Risqué, Baroness Indelicate.

Baroness Indelicate. The figure known as Vanity in the V&A. Early 17th century.

She hails from  some posh place in France I believe. Came over with the Queen, Henrietta, who is herself French. Indeed, I am not the only one showing a lot of bosom ! Baroness Indelicate is wearing the latest court fashion. A see through fichou ( scarf) across the bosom which leaves nothing to the imagination, as the bodice is cut extremely low. However, I have to say, I shall be appearing in the masque as a nymph of the train of Diana and so am allowed to be somewhat scantily clad. Besides, now, I am decorously covered with a floaty little number across the bosom….I had heard she was vain but this is a bit……….

Good Lord!

Indeed…Lord- young Lord Hardly Teething. He is only about three years of age. What is he doing here? It’s not right he should be involved in the goings on. I know he came into his title on the death of his father last year but…really! He is such a sweetie.

The head of the Angus girl....though it could be a boy. 17th century possibly. One of those that might be a cannibalised canvas portrait dummy board of the 19th century. By kind permission of the National Trust for Scotland.

Masque goers are getting younger and younger each year. { Or is it that I am getting older and older…. too old!- No. Don’t answer that- it’s rhetorical!}

The Groussay Girl France 17th century.

Here is another girl in Court dress. More cleavage and bosom! She is standing by the grand fireplace trying to look inconspicuous and failing. I know her. It’s the mistress of the Masque Master,the famous Indigo Bones*. She is Dutch and her name, I believe is Willyng OOpfront, or something like that. She has a starring role in the masque of course.

A servant with a candle is beckoning me forward. Ah the Masque is about to begin. I’d better take my place.

Girl with Candle. English mid 18th c. in private collection in the U.S.A.

I am to wear a fantastic wig and elaborate makeup which is a kind of disguise and of course, my see through frock with the < ahem> low neckline. And of course I shall wear a MASK! Thank heavens…no one will recognise me….

So off we go.

We firstly have an entrance… a stately procession, then a sprightly little dance. The music is cheerful and loud, tuneful and rather repetitious. We trip around delicately. More a walk really with a lot of twirling of the hands and fiddling with the feet. No jumping allowed. No gyrating of the hips, no pouting, no sexual innuendo. ( Oh how different from modern dance and music ‘entertainment’). For a taste of the sort of thing on offer go to Early Dance

Then we have a declamation and a song.

"What a rapture is in this call to the
masquers to begin the dance ! 

" Shake off your heavy trance ! 

And leap into a dance 

Such as no mortals use to tread : 

Fit only for Apollo
To play to, for the moon to lead, 

And all the stars to follow !"

Yes…well… great poetry it is NOT. That’s that bit done then. I can go and have something to eat now. I wrap myself up again, take off my mask and let it dangle fashionably from my wrist.

I wend my way through the throng. I can still hear the masque going on outside but my little part is almost finished…I appear again at the end.

I could do with a slice of that nice Boar’s head.. to keep my stomach from grumbling.

The double sided Boar's head dummy board by Maggi Howard.

I’ll  pinch an apple as I pass. Three goes and I manage to get one that is not trompe l’oeil!

Aha! there is a game of cards going on in a quiet corner. Not everyone is enamoured of the grand entertainment.

I see that there is a lot of money on the table.

The Compleat Gamester: A manual for indulging in every kind of game or pastime.

*1 And standing in the fireplace? Is that a dummy board figure of a fashionable gentleman or is it just a rather inebriated party goer, pouring his wine onto the floor. If we could just get a little closer we might be able to tell, but the press is close here and I am liable to be crushed. I pass on.

Behind the firework stage there is an illegal cock fighting game going on. The rabble always manage to creep into these events, not least because they are required to do the heavy and menial work, to make the Masque go with a swing. They are the artisans who heave the scenery around, man the machinery for the stage effects and light the fireworks.

There are a pair of Danish soldiers, the guard for a visiting head of state, lurking around in the corridor. They are a bit drunk and jostle me as I pass. They want a look at my costume. Cheeky knaves….

Two danish soldiers..not quite cut out. Probably early 19th century.

I give one of them a biff around the head with my ( quite heavy ) papier mache mask. It knocks his hat off. Whilst he is scrabbling to retrieve it, I plant my foot on his backside and send him sprawling. The other one, laughing at his mate, makes a grab for my coat. ” Oh no you don’t!  ” My nice little pointy shoes with the substantial heels, connect with the part of his anatomy that he thought might come in very handy tonight.  😉 Sorry to disabuse him.

The nice little pointy shoes of the mid 18th c. Chertsey Girl By kind permission of the owners

I beat a hasty retreat!

The fireworks are about to start.

Beautiful blue and green whorls light up the sky and are reflected in the lake. Red and green streamers follow with a loud whooping sound. ( rather like the Danish soldier’s response to my dainty kick!) Huge Catherine wheels spitting white fire turn ponderously out of sequence with the music, ( the musicians are on a floating barge ) specially composed to accompany them.

Oh no… the white doves that were to be in the final act of the masque, played before the firework background across the lake, have escaped the basket container where they were housed and are wheeling around in the garden getting in the way of the firework men. The Chief Pyrotechnician, a fat little Italian man, Signor Claudio Smoak, is waving his hands about and screeching at the top of his voice. In Italian. Of course only the Nobles can understand him and the ladies are shocked by the language!

Someone screams as a larger bird wheels across the night sky and makes a pass at a dove rather close to the toppling wig of one of the Masquers.

19th century Tole ware owl. yes... not one that would chase doves I know... but for the sake of the story......

Not to worry the Falconer has him under control in a jiffy.

19th century falconer France. ( sorry for the's very old. )

The doves scatter.

One of the ladies lap dogs has escaped too. It’s cavorting around biting everyone in sight.

19th century little lap dog... it wouldn't bite I know!

It bites fat Signor Smoak. He throws his hands in the air and screams.

Signor Smoak perhaps?

The pyrotechnics men think this is the signal for the final act. Cannon fire is heard.

Specially made tinder wood boats which have been moored on the lake under the cover of darkness, suddenly disgorge fire and fireworks. BUT, there are still people towing the boats into place, making them secure and rowing back to the shore. There are cries of “Too soon…too soon!”

This is the cue for an Italian tenor, (needless to say his name is Rushiero Toosoon ) to break into the final song.

This is also in turn, the cue for the massed ladies of the court ( dressed as Grecian nymphs …me included, ) to progress to the stage and artistically mob the central character, a mythical Admiral, victor of the ( now raging ) battle on the lake. The little waves froth with activity and the boats bob up and down dangerously. Many participants fall in the lake ( not too deep however ) and can be seen wading ashore in the most dishevelled of states, makeup running, wigs agley, flimsy costumes hugging their shivering bodies. ( Perhaps the first instance of the Miss wet t shirt competition?)

I haven’t thank goodness made it to the stage, for after a moment of heaving and groaning, the weight of the massed procession, tips the flimsy structure into the drink. Just in time to meet the wave of drowned sailors who are trying to drag themselves up the bank. Chaos!

I saunter to the provisions tent, to grab a morsel. There is a nasty looking tramp fiddling about in the food.

A 19th century dummy board...not sure what he is but it's probably for the theatre

I send him on his way and beckon to a servant with a broom to come and sweep up the mess.

The Castle Howard sweeper early 18th century Castle Howard Yorks.

What a day! I’m going home.

I reach the room assigned as a changing room for the ‘nymphs’. My clothes…my DAY clothes… ordinary clothes, are missing. As are a lot of the other participants’. Not to mention that but our pocket books are also missing. I bet it was that nasty tramp. He could get a tidy sum for the quality clothes he might be able to stuff into the bag he was carrying! How am I to get home without money to pay the chair man? I can’t wander the night streets dressed like this! Oh my!

^Anyone got a bed I can share for the night?


*Inigo Jones…..of course the famous Masque creator of the early 17th century, transparently disguised as Indigo Bones.

*1. The Compleat Gamester. It is said that this is the first instance in history, of an illustration of a dummy board. I’m not convinced.

^ Actually bed sharing was common practice in the 17th century. And before. No hanky panky was indulged in…….mostly. 😉

Might catch something nasty!

Read all about it!

Seeing double!


I am getting on with my commission, I promise, but I have been held up a bit by a sore neck and the fact that my new glasses, which are supposed to be all singing all dancing are giving me headaches..and the sore neck. They are varifocals, you see and I am having terrible trouble adjusting my focal length from close work to distance. You should, however see the results of my labours shortly.

A little while ago I found an interesting piece in the paper, about that most revered of 16th century artists, Nicholas Hilliard, the miniature painter. Apparently, two famous pictures of Queen Elizabeth the First, namely the Pelican and the Phoenix ( named for the jewels that the Queen is wearing in each painting ), may both be by Hilliard and one is an ( almost ) mirror image of the other. Even great artists like Hilliard were not averse to a bit of tracing paper and a pencil!

The two Hillards.. The Pelican left, and The Phoenix

It’s quite the case that even the most “compleat” artist will use any help he can get, to make the work he is doing easier or quicker.

No doubt Hilliard, working to a tight schedule, didn’t have all the time in the world to sketch and fiddle about trying to come up with a *new* idea for yet another portrait of the finicky, flattery fond, Elizabeth. By a little sleight of hand he could dash off a * new * composition by turning an old one over and changing the detail.

They do say that we can tell this is the case from analysis of the wood panelling that both pictures are painted upon. Remember at this stage, canvas was a thing of the future. The base of the painting would be tongue and grooved or jointed wood planks, which would then be smoothed with gesso a mixture of glue, plaster and horrible things you really don’t need to know about. 🙂

Both paintings are apparently, made from the wood of the same tree.

Fortunate tree.

The connection with dummy boards?

Many are mirror images of each other.

Take these two….

Girl number one

Girl number two

Both by kind permission of the owner, in the U.K.

Two early 18th century figures obviously copied one from another.

Or these two….

The Girl with whip? at an American Museum

The above kindly photographed for me by the museum or this version also 19th century in another American collection.

A second girl with whip? By kind permission of the owners.

Here we can see how a famous picture by Rembrandt has been reversed, copied and added to, in the 19th century, to make a full length dummy board. It was quite common for someone to paint the face of a patron or his wife into the work and here, though the original painting is of Maria Tripp, the dummy board has an unknown face.

Maria Tripp by yes....but not as we know her, Jim.

Maria Tripp...the real one.

So it’s quite a common thing to find.

Might it be that our famous artist or our dummy board maker might have used a device rather like a camera obscura ?

….which is a device for, amongst other things, producing an accurate image on a screen or paper, often, it is said, used by artists to transfer a design. Or even the camera lucida ?

Another famous artist, this time a 20th century one wrote a book about it….

David Hockney.

Now whether you agree with his reasonings or not…it’s an intriguing possibility. And one which I have been examining for a while now, in my study of dummy boards, puzzled, as I was by the fact that many of the ‘copies’ are and have been reversed.

For this is what the camera obscura does….it reverses things.

Does this mean the great artists of the past……. cheated!?


To round off..another nice little laddie.

Boy with posy, possibly 19th century maybe early 20th? By kind permission of the owner in the U.S.

And another….

Boy no. 2 by kind permission of the owner in the U.K.


The original…I suspect… now sadly lost.

Georgian? Probably. And the reverse.

Now we’re seeing triple.

Must take more water with it…… or maybe it’s the new glasses!


“Make mine a half!”


Someone has just sent me an e mail telling me how very informative my blog is, thank you for that Alan. I try to be interesting, informative but also fun. Hence my naughty little tales from the 17th century! He goes on to say that he had always thought that just looking at art work and pictures a trifle boring, but that studying the images I find to write about, is far from tedious.I would have to agree wouldn’t I since I love dummy boards in all their incarnations and sometimes their stories, their life history is fascinating.

Who would have thought, for example, that even such an exalted figure as Rembrandt would have mined the rarefied artistic seam that is the dummy board? See Must try Harder Or that Gainsborough felt it a sufficiently kosher form that he too, had a go at it?

Yes he did. That master of frills and fripperies; that most perceptive portrayer of people; that dab hand dauber made himself a dummy board.

Self portrait Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough was born in 1728 in Sudbury in Suffolk which is in the East of England. What did we say in the last post about the east of England? That it was in close proximity to the Low countries ( Holland and Belgium ) where dummy board manufacture had begun in the late 16th/ early 17th century; that artistic ideas could flow easily from there to England and that quite a few dummy boards of the older sort are to be found there. Indeed there was a real connection with this part of Europe when we ‘imported’ a Protestant monarch at the end of the 17th century- William of Orange, married of course to our own Mary Stuart, { No…not the Bloody one who gave her name to a cocktail. …Is there orange in that cocktail? )  🙂

Indeed, there had been a connection even before this when Hugenot refugees began flowing across the Channel, fleeing the persecution of Protestants in France and other countries. These men and women were consummate artisans. We owe our own English prowess in the textile trade to them. They were weavers, especially in silk; they were painters ( one of the most influential and famous was Nicholas Gheerhaerts the portrait painter who had come here in the mid 16th century ). They were carpenters, gilders, horologists ( clockmakers), embroiderers and they brought with them the skills of inlaying woods and precious stones, veneering, { nothing to do with a nasty disease! 🙂  }- the facing of items furniture with thin sheets of beautiful woods and above all trompe l’oeil work of all kinds.

So we can imagine that the young Thomas G. ( for he was relatively young and unknown when he made the surviving piece we know is his ) would be familiar with the art form of the dummy board and might have seen a few examples here and there as he travelled about the county.

Thomas was rather good at drawing. He was sent to study engraving in London in 1740 and he started to paint Landscapes.

Now, landscapes were rather a new thing then. One of his pictures which now hangs in the national Gallery no less, was described at the time as:

” A nasty green thing”

Mmm. Rather unfair really. But you see, landscapes were supposed to be backgrounds for people. They weren’t worthy of actually just being pictures in their own right, unless of course they depicted your ancestral home or your large country seat….and  few had one of those….{ yes…I know… quite a few  can be seen around and about nowadays…but I don’t mean THAT kind of seat.} 🙂

So poor old Gainsborough had to retire to Suffolk and paint….people. Local Suffolk bigwigs mostly. Not terribly well paid, that sort of job.

And it was whilst he was struggling financially, that he had the idea of painting a dummy board. A half a one actually. Like Rembrandt before him, he painted the top half of a person, which could be displayed on a window ledge or, as actually happened, a wall.

It goes like this.

There are two of us and we are walking down the lane in Sudbury Suffolk and we round the corner and espy, atop a wall across the road, a young man, sunk down, hunched into his coat, a hat pulled over his eyes. He just sits there and stares down at the pavement in front of him. Behind him is a tree, a pear tree. Maybe he has crept into the garden to do a bit of scrumping, that is – for our overseas readers, stealing fruit from someone’s tree.Perhaps he can’t get back over the wall.

“oh ho”…we say to ourselves… ” Maybe here is one who is languishing for love.” He looks so depressed and sunk in his own world.

We pass by and we smile, thinking…cheer’s not as bad as all that. ” Mornin’ ” we might say.

Off we go to wherever we have decided to go.

On the way back we spy the young man again. He doesn’t appear any different.

” Lord Love us..” says our companion ” He’s in a bad way. He doesn’t appear to have moved a muscle.” And he is there the next day….and the next.

Thomas Peartree. Sorry...but taking a photo through plate glass is jolly awkward!

In the words of the gentleman who first saw and wrote about this dummy board, Phillipe Thicknesse:

“I perceived a melancholy -faced country man, with his arms locked together leaning over the garden wall. I pointed this out to my friend (the printer Mr Creighton ) who replied that he had noticed that the man had been there all day and pitied him for he believed that he was either mad or miserable. With that I stepped forward with the intention of speaking to the madman and did not perceive, until I was close up, that the figure was a wooden man painted up on a shake board. My friend, a very ingenious fellow…., laughed and said that I had not been the only person this inimitable deception had fooled. Many acquaintances had even been led to speak to the ‘person’ before they discovered it was a work of art”

When he found out Gainsborough’s address he visited him and told him that he
“ came to chide him for having imposed a shadow instead of a substance upon me” The diaries of Phillip Thicknesse 1719-92

And so Gainsborough acquired his first commission for painting the ‘soon to be’ wife of Phillip Thicknessse. And from this little acorn did the great oak tree grow.

Ann Ford, Mrs. Thicknesse in the Cincinnati Art Museum

He is affectionately known as Thomas Peartree, this dummy board, from the tree that he was sitting beside and he slouches behind glass on a painted wall ( not by Gainsborough ) in a display in the museum in Ipswich, Christchurch Mansions in the Wolsey Gallery. Go here….

Christchurch Mansions

for more information.

And I have seen him…and he is wonderful!

The only absolutely pedigree, absolutley beyond question, proven and native ENGLISH dummy board…is sadly, only a half a one!

( For our overseas readers…the title of this post is  from drinking parlance. When offered a drink of usually ale, by a kindly purchaser, we reply modestly…”I’ll just have a half” – hence ” Mine’s a half or “make mine a half.”)

Pretty maids all in a row.


Delphi Dog in her Brackley Morris Men collar. The prettiest maid of all.

Delphi dog and I had a wonderful Bank Holiday weekend. We were out morrissing with the Brackley Morris men; Delphi being cute and cuddly wearing her Brackley Morris Men collar and me flootling away on my tootling sticks. We went to Canons Ashby near Daventry to dance, a regular venue on August Bank Holiday and I popped in to say hello to George ( you remember George the Grenadier?)

And tonight my good friend Richard ( Richard York ) is giving a lecture at the Brackley Historical Society’s meeting on Historical instruments….He plays quite a goodly number so I shall nip along and see if he needs a bit of help. Altogether a nice musical time I’m having of it! Richard dresses up in appropriate costume for his performances, which range from medieval to 19th century. It’s so much fun to dress up and wear the, sometimes, beautiful costumes of the past. Even the ordinary man in the street could sometimes be dressed wonderfully.

Richard with one of his harps. In 16/17th century ( Wake family livery) costume...Richard...not the harps!

A lot of people ask me how I can identify a dummy board by costume. That very question was put to me today by Edward, who is a curator of a museum in the North of England.

Richard in some nice stripes. Of course I'm not implying he is a pretty maid at all.

The answer of course is – it’s not reliable. Take the case of the Sweeping maids for example.

The earliest by their dress are those which seem to wear the Flemish costume of the early 17th century. We have touched on these figures in an earlier post, Cleanliness is next to Godliness.

They are some of the earliest dummy board figures still in existence and many of them bear an uncanny resemblance to each other….as if they were all modelled on the same person and painted by the same artist. ( see Cleanliness is next to Godliness )

But it is possible that these might be later figures given the fun the Georgians and  Victorians had copying and inventing as they did.

How can we be sure that the figures we are looking at are not ( like Richard’s lovely costumes ) just reproductions?

This is where we have to do a bit of historical digging and check with things like letters, house inventories and wills. We don’t do this now but back in the days when people didn’t own much ( even those who had plenty of money ) they would make lists of possessions and sometimes the relative place where they were kept was recorded too. For example we know that there was a dummy board kept at the ( now ) National Trust house of Dyrham Park near Bath. It was documented in the late 17th century in a house inventory where we are told that it sat in an

‘ante hall’ at Dyrham, a small room containing nothing more than “a table, a grate, a large bird cage and a sea feather”. ( This Quiet Life Susanne M. Newstead )

It is still there today.

yes..she's there if you look carefully. The Dyrham peeler " pareing of an apple".

People would list things in minute detail when they made their wills. ” My best bed ” or ” My green kirtle with the pansy embroidery and gold lace” ( both from the will of a wealthy merchant’s wife in Suffolk). So it’s possible to put a date onto a dummy board from when they appear in such documents as these. We may not know when exactly they were made but we can say they were present in such and such a place from at the earliest …blah…. We can tell roughly when they were made if we have a bill of sale. These are more rare but they are about.

One such document is in a museum in  Cheshire. Dated to 1755 and made out to a Mr. Rudd of Newcastle, this letter talks about a series of figures presumably for an inn.

“I send you enclosed for your approbation the draughts or designs of seven heads. Number seven is a squddle ( ? ) chubb faced mortal which Mr Thomas Scholes and I propose for the drawer ( a barman ), to be placed on the first landing of the stairs; he has a towel under his arm…………It would make an excellent figure but I could not afford it under two guineas, if as large as life.”

Tim Bobbin Rochdale ART gallery.

Norwich museum's barman or publican figure. Mid 18th century.

So whilst it’s seemingly easy to date a figure by costume, we can be so wrong and it’s better to look for other evidence if we can find it.

Back to the Sweeping maids. We know that this type of figure was around at the right time as letters and inventories tell us so. So does a rudimentary newspaper of the time ( Ned Ward’s London Spy ). He mentions the sweeping maid figure as early as the mid 1600’s.

The Stoneleigh sweeper once in Surrey.

Above you will see the sweeping maid who lives at Stoneleigh House in Warwickshire. There are quite a few references to her being around a while too. Compare her with the picture of the Lullingstone Sweeper a bit further down. Very alike aren’t they? And both of them Flemish 1630 or thereabouts. Or at the very least influenced by the Flemish tradition. How did they end up here?

Given the close proximity of the East of England to the low countries as they were called and the fact that it was very easy for goods, services and ideas to travel across the channel, it’s not really surprising that they are all Kentish maids ( or were before they were re-distributed – most of them still are in the East.)

The V&A sweeper once at East Sutton park Kent

The Black boy sweeper now lost but once in Suffolk.

Canterbury sweeper now lost but from Kent

The Lullingstone sweeper. Still in Kent

The sweeper at Castle Howard in Yorkshire...still in the East!

Now for the oddest thing about the sweepers.

Take a look at this figure.

The wonderful Rotterdam Sweeper c. 1740

She lives in the open air museum in Rotterdam Holland and we are in no doubt that she is Dutch.

Now look at this one.

The Southwold Sweeper 19th century?

Not very handsome and certainly not as attractive as the figure she was modelled on. And she is still in the East of the country in Suffolk.

If you put these two side by side you can see that who ever painted the Southwold sweeper has reversed the Rotterdam figure, added a few folderols in the form of a pretty apron and a cap but that the knot on the apron is identical and the pose, apart from the hand which is rather badly painted, is the same. An amateur then?

This of course has happened before. You have seen the punter and the mopping man. ( A Second Career ) You have been introduced to several other sweepers  in the post mentioned above and one or two sleeping children ( Must Try Harder). It is no doubt, still happening. It’s usually easy to spot the copies. I’ve spoken about looking at the face as a good guide and this sweeper’s face is all 19th century, not 18th at all. Before we pronounce a date for a figure we try to pull all available information together.

And then we make a guess…..ah well… ( some would say an educated one …but I’m not claiming anything ) 🙂

Dummy Board detecting…. It may have been listed under Natural Philosophy in the 19th century ( I kid you not ), but It’s not an exact science after all!