Dummy Board Figures

My curiosity was first peaked by these intriguing cutout figures after reading a short chapter on them in the 1962 edition of, 'More Looking in Junk Shops' by John Bedford (with a fabulous cover by Susan Holland if you can find one still in it's dust jacket!).
The dummy boards shown here are all British made dating from the mid-1600's. They are made from wood painted with oils. The Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) has a collection of these boards, most of which seem to be in storage, however, you can browse through their archives online. 

Here's a short description by the V&A on the history and reasoning behind these curiosities:

"Dummy boards are life-size, flat, wooden figures painted and shaped in outline to resemble figures of servants, soldiers, children, and animals. The taste for using illusionistic painted figures as a form of house decoration probably originated in the trompe l’oeil, or life-like interior scenes painted by Dutch artists in the early 17th century. Dummy boards continued to be produced into the 19 th century. They were placed in corners and on stairways to surprise visitors, or in front of empty fireplaces in the summer. Most were made by professional sign-painters, who also produced the hanging street signs prevalent until the late 18th century."
Victoria & Albert Museum website link

Apparently women peeling apples, like the dummy board above, were a popular choice of design. If you can think of a reason for this, please share it! 
Although many were freestanding, some boards were mounted a few inches away from a wall to improve the shadows they created and therefore, better the illusion of the figure being real...
I can't help thinking that this chap looks like one of those figures you might find at a village fete - the ones which you put your face through & people throw sponges at! 

If you'd like to read further on the subject, there is also blog dedicated to all things dummy-board-figure related, enjoy! Past Mastery 


Anonymous said…
Just found your little post.
Thank you for the reference...most kind.

Can I just correct one tiny misunderstanding though....The figures you have photos of, are NOT ALL ENGLISH. Despite what it might say on the V&A site....they are most likely to be Flemish or Dutch and imported.
They are all very early and as such are likely to be Low Lands.
Nice to see someone else likes dummy boards too.
Best Wishes
Sue Newstead
Author of This Quiet Life...an evaluation of historic dummy boards