This blog continues in the “Europe & the U.S. in 99 Objects” series. Dr. Gabriella de la Rosa at the National Trust has started this project for the National Trust, originally published here, by delving into the Trust’s collections – nearly 1 million objects held at over 200 historic properties across the United Kingdom – to find objects with interesting, unusual and unexpected connections to Europe. These objects and their stories are being published in the form of a digital diary on the National Trust Collections website.
#24 Standing Girl with a Basket of Apples (dummy board)
Category: Art / Oil paintings
Date: 1650 – 1699
Materials: Oil on wood
Measurements: 1065 x 495 mm
Place of origin: Holland
Collection: Chirk Castle, Wrexham (Accredited Museum)
On show at: Chirk Castle, Wrexham, Wales, National Trust
This young girl holding a basket of apples is an example of a little-known type of object in the history of decorative art: the dummy board. Dummy boards are life-sized, cut-out figures that formed part of 17th-century roomscapes. They take the form of playful children, helpful servants and armed soldiers, and to the modern eye, there is something uncanny about their placement in entrance halls and staircase landings. But what was their original purpose? Imaginative tales have emerged about the origin and use of these objects, including suggestions that they served as doorstops, firescreens and even targets for firing practice. Some have speculated that the appearance of these mysterious figures in an ill-lit interior acted as an early form of home security. In all likelihood, they may have simply ‘populated’ empty spaces, giving rise to their other name, ‘silent companions’. While there isn’t a consensus on the origin of dummy boards, their use as a form of interior decoration is rooted in the Dutch tradition of trompe l’oeil painting – the technique of creating a three-dimensional visual illusion on a flat surface. They also relate to visual games of wit and deception, where illusionistic surfaces are meant to engage the viewer in a process that entails confusion, astonishment and finally amusement as the artifice is exposed.
Oil painting on wood, Standing Girl with a Basket of Apples (dummy board), Dutch School, mid -17th century. One of a pair of mid-17th-century Dutch painted dummy board figures of children. A girl wearing lace ruff, lace-edged bonnet and apron with basket of fruit and walnuts on her left arm and single fruit in left hand. See same figure at Hinton Ampner NT 1529871.2.
Arthur Herbert Hussey (1863-1923)
Date: 9 Oct 1914 – 15 May 1915
Measurements: 160 x 101 x 10 mm
Collection: Scotney Castle, Kent (Accredited Museum)
Not on show
In 2011 a team of volunteers encountered a black metal trunk in an attic of Scotney Castle in Kent. With no key to be found, the trunk was carefully prised open, revealing a secret cache of diaries, letters and battlefield maps belonging to Brigadier General Arthur Hussey, who arrived on the Western Front in France in October 1914. Prior to this discovery, little was known about Arthur, except that he was a career soldier and son of Edward Hussey III who built the house at Scotney in the 1830s. This repository of Arthur’s personal documents transformed that, bringing to life his wartime experiences and thoughts. In his diaries, Arthur vividly describes the horrors of gas attacks, the introduction of tanks and wire cutting experiments. He writes about the gymkhanas held behind the lines to keep up morale and shares his thoughts on friends, including the wartime poet Siegfried Sassoon. His entries are factual and sometimes repetitive, offering a glimpse into the monotony of war. In one entry, Arthur records the Christmas truce of 1914: ‘All day there was a sort of unofficial armistice, and we heard afterwards there had been a lot of talking, exchanging of cigarettes etc in the opposite trenches.’ Hidden for nearly a century, the contents of Arthur’s trunk now make up the best collection of First World War material held by the National Trust.
Diary of Brigadier General Arthur Herbert Hussey, written 9th October 1914- 15th May 1915. A lined notebook with black leather covers. Volume one of eleven.