A Gathering of Gainsboroughs.

We shall draw a veil over the scene at Sir Bumptious Grandly’s house and fly forward to the late 18th century to see what has happened to the miniature dummy board figures that Lyn Silcock bought before Christmas in my Massive Never to be Repeated Sale.

Lyn has kindly sent me some photos of her dollshouse and where she has put the two Gainsborough figures she acquired and the one early 18th century figure of the Rotterdam Sweeper, ( though truthfully she could be the sort of maid anyone might have from the early to the end of the 18th century. Their costumes didn’t change much.)

The figure of Lady Sheffield, pretty in blue, is standing in the Dining Room. ( Please click the pictures for a larger version).

Lady Sheffield, PastMastery dummy board 5 inches.

This life sized dummy board based on the picture painted by Thomas Gainsborough  ( 1727-1788), in 1785 of Sophia Charlotte, Lady Sheffield when she was just 18, was sold into in private collection in the U.S.A. in 1985, from a museum collection. It was common practice for dummy board artists to insert the face of the patron or his wife or children, into existing  historical costumes depicted on famous paintings
and many boards of this kind were made in the late Georgian era and into the 19th century.Some of them are really exceptional as is this very decorative and beautifully rendered portrait of a lady of whom we know absolutely nothing, except that she is modelled on a very elegant Gainsborough portrait now in the Rothschild collection, at Waddesdon Manor.

I live a stone’s throw from this beautiful house and go there often, not just for the beautiful collection of antiques there, nor the lovely and friendly exotic birds in the equally lovely garden but for the CREAM TEAS which are to expire for. You have never seen such enormous scones. ( But I digress…..) So that is why I know that this dummy board does not have the same face as the original.

Waddesdon, between Aylesbury and Oxford.

Lyn also tells me that there is a feature in the monthly magazine Period Ideas ( for those of us who love Period houses this is a MUST ), on Waddesdon and in one of the illustrations in the article, there is a reflection of this portrait of Lady Sheffield in a mirror. How very Romantic! If you don’t buy the magazine then have a peek when you next go into W.H. Smith’s or your local newsagent. I would have put a link to the online magazine here…but there doesn’t seem to be one.

Below we have my favourite Gainsborough figure. Or should that be figures. This is the most complicated one I have ever done. Two ladies and a dog painted in 2008.

The Girls in the Sitting Room

Sadly, it’s not an existing dummy board but one of the the largest PastMastery miniature figures I executed and one based on the portrait of Thomas Gainsborough’s  (1727- 1788) two daughters Margaret
and Mary  painted in 1777. I have long thought this picture would make a wonderful subject as the shape is good and the costume a real challenge- it’s a shame we know nothing about the little dog!
Fashionable ladies in all centuries had themselves painted as dummy boards, though  few really higher class ones have survived from a much earlier age. Anecdotal evidence suggested that they were so fashionable,late 18th and early 19th century dummy board makers even cut out suitable existing figures from older oil paintings and mounted them on wood, as dummy boards. What cannibalisation.These two girls though are still alright and are in the Whitbread  collection.

On the left we see Margaret ( born 1748). She married an oboe player and was so unhappy in her marriage that her mental balance became disturbed. The other daughter, Mary was born in 1752 and remained unmarried, devoting herself to her sick sister’s care. This is one of Gainsborough’s most endearing portraits, to my mind, though the art critics talk of it as being slick and stiff! Hmmmmm?

Finally, here is The Rotterdam Sweeper, that little hussy, with her broom, making light work of the dust on the kitchen floor.

The Rotterdam Sweeper, c. 1730 5 inches

This figure is doing exactly what she should be doing. Lurking in the shadows, of a dimly lit room. See how effective it is?

There are many sweeping lady dummy board figures, ( as you know those who have followed this blog for a while ) some dating back as far as the middle of the 17th century. This life -sized Dutch maid dates to between 1720 and 1740 and according to records
at the Historical Museum in Rotterdam Holland where she is kept, it is said that she was placed in a corridor or hallway as a visual warning that cleaning was in  progress in the house and that the family or more
properly, the Mistress, was not receiving visitors that day. She is made on one plank of pine and originally had one brace on the reverse at the base. Later in her history a rebated stand has been made for her feet to
sink into. She may have been copied by an English dummy board maker for she has an early 19th century sister figure in the museum at Southwold in Suffolk U.K.

I like this figure.She has a certain spark. It’s probably the way she is looking at you. Few dummy boards do this. They are often engaging something that is, so to speak, over your left shoulder or they are in profile. This one is really looking at YOU and is almost daring you to say something.

Told you…she is a bit of a Madam.

Talking of Madams. 🙂

I haven’t done many Gainsborough figures. When people want figures done of themselves in full sized, they mostly go for the less complicated types of costume as the late 18th century with its satin, lace and embroidery can be quite highly priced in time and effort to execute. ( Notice I didn’t say expensive ).

But here is one figure which is known to you all.

The full sized ( or almost, at nearly 5  foot) Lady Bon, Lady Bonnie Looks. ( actually not her real name at all, but a friend in The U.S.A. who had her portrait painted by me as a Gainsborough lady.)

These photos were taken in my garden and the original portrait is in the Frick Collection in Washington and is of The Honourable Frances Duncombe in 1777. The frock is to die for!



4 Responses to “A Gathering of Gainsboroughs.”

  1. Debbie Says:

    The Dummy boards certainly look very much at home in Lyn’s House. Please thank Lyn for sharing the pictures with us..xxxx

  2. Jean Day Says:

    Your Dummy boards look fabulous in these settings. Cheers, Jean

    • pastmastery Says:

      Thanks Jean…. this is what they were meant for!
      I do hope others will send me some photos of where they have put them. It’s like sending your children out into the world and not being able to keep in touch!

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