Young Man with Sword (dummy board) thumbnail 1
Young Man with Sword (dummy board) thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
British Galleries, Room 54, Henrietta Street Room

Young Man with Sword (dummy board)

Dummy Board Figure
ca. 1745 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.

It is likely that this figure was made by a professional sign painter. Most dummy boards were produced in this way and sold through cabinet-makers and upholsterers. Sign painters also worked to commission and would provide the client with original designs for approval.

Materials & Making
Dummy boards were made out of a single piece of wood or, like this one, an assembly of tongued and grooved boards cut to shape and reinforced at the back with battens. The front of the figure was smoothed down, primed and painted with oils and the back was more roughly finished and painted black. A block or bracket behind the feet supported the board. The mysterious item in this figure's right hand may have been used to fix it to a wall or door. Dummy boards were usually bolted a few inches in front of a wall to help create a convincing shadow. They also had a chamfered edge from front to back to add to the illusion.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on pine
Brief Description
Dummy board, oil on wood panel, young man with sword, British ca.1745
Physical Description
Life-size cut-out painting of a young man holding a sword. He wears a short white wig with black bow, red coat and breeches, white waistcoat, lace cravat and cuffs, white stockings and black shoes with a sword.
Dimensions
  • Height: 38cm
  • Width: 31cm
This print was originally part of a volume that was broken up into individual plates. Dimensions taken from departmental notes.
Style
Gallery Label
British Galleries: This painted figure dressed in the style of the 1740s is a dummy board figure, or ' inanimate companion'. They may have been intended simply for amusement, although very little is known for sure about how they were placed in a room or what their purpose was. This one, standing on a stone floor, may originally have been intended for a hall.(27/03/2003)
Credit line
Given by W. J. Fieldhouse
Object history
Made in Britain
Historical context
A flagged stone floor is visible between the feet, so the figure presumably ushered visitors into a hall. The function of the item in his right hand is unclear - perhaps it was intended to fix the figure to a wall or door.
Subjects depicted
Summary
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.



It is likely that this figure was made by a professional sign painter. Most dummy boards were produced in this way and sold through cabinet-makers and upholsterers. Sign painters also worked to commission and would provide the client with original designs for approval.

Materials & Making
Dummy boards were made out of a single piece of wood or, like this one, an assembly of tongued and grooved boards cut to shape and reinforced at the back with battens. The front of the figure was smoothed down, primed and painted with oils and the back was more roughly finished and painted black. A block or bracket behind the feet supported the board. The mysterious item in this figure's right hand may have been used to fix it to a wall or door. Dummy boards were usually bolted a few inches in front of a wall to help create a convincing shadow. They also had a chamfered edge from front to back to add to the illusion.
Bibliographic Reference
Graham, Clare. Dummy Boards and Chimney Boards. Shire Album 214, Aylesbury: Shire Publications Ltd, 1988. 32 p., ill. ISBN 085263921X
Collection
Accession Number
W.41-1925

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record createdMarch 27, 2003
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