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Dummy board figure - Young Man with Sword (dummy board)

Young Man with Sword (dummy board)

  • Object:

    Dummy board figure

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1745 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:


  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on pine

  • Credit Line:

    Given by W. J. Fieldhouse

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 54, Henrietta Street Room

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.

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.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (made)


ca. 1745 (made)



Materials and Techniques

Oil on pine


Height: 38 cm, Width: 31 cm

Object history note

Made in Britain

Historical context note

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.

Descriptive line

Dummy board, oil on wood panel, young man with sword, British ca.1745

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Graham, Clare. Dummy Boards and Chimney Boards. Shire Album 214, Aylesbury: Shire Publications Ltd, 1988. 32 p., ill. ISBN 085263921X

Labels and date

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]





Subjects depicted

Sword; Man


Clothing; Fashion; Footwear; Arms & Armour; Paintings


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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