Friday, December 30, 2011

Artists' Lay Figures, Part 1

Artists’ lay figures are jointed dummies, used in place of living models for the purpose of studying costumes and drapery. For the next four posts, we’ll take a closer look at them.

The little wooden mannikins that they sell in art stores nowadays are cheap miniature versions, nothing like the originals. They are just a remnant of what was once a common studio tool. 

Lay figures are most useful when they are full-sized and when their forms and joints are accurate. That way they can be dressed with real human clothes. They can hold still with infinite patience in place of a human model, and the folds of the drapery will not change.

Lay figures go back at least as far as Bartolommeo. When Gerard ter Borch (1617-1681) painted this figure of a woman in a dress, he almost certainly arranged the dress on a lay figure.

The Museum of London has a lay figure used by Louis François Roubiliac in the 18th century for his drawing and sculpting classes. According to the museum’s catalog, “The figure is articulated and can adopt a variety of poses. It has a skeleton of bronze overlaid with cork, horsehair, wool and an outer covering of silk stockinette. With a carved and painted wooden head that may be used as both male or female, the model has two sets of accompanying sets of clothes - one male and one female.”

Other lay figures were made from papier-mâché, similar to the dress forms used today in the fashion industry. Recently some manufacturers have produced full-sized mannikins made of plastic or foam over a wire skeleton. These allow more flexibility in posing than a department store mannikins and cost about $200.

Added image: Blog reader अर्जुन shared a link for this 1900 illustration by Andre Castaigne showing art students working on their Prix de Rome image with a lay figure gussied up in costume and a fellow art student posing, kissing the lay figure's hand. Thanks, अर्जुन 

Tomorrow we’ll see more old-style lay figures and how they were constructed.
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The Mannikin Store

Read the full GurneyJourney series on lay figures:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 
Part 4

8 comments:

अर्जुन said...

J.G., check out this pic of one in use behind the scenes of the Prix de Rome competition.

Bob Mrotek said...

अर्जुन,
You have a wonderful name! It is Hindi and it is "Arjuna" in English, right? In Indian mythology Arjuna is the greatest warrior on earth. He is an archer and is one of the Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic Mahābhārata.

Richard J. Luschek II said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard J. Luschek II said...

I would love to find one of the well made older lay figure. One has to believe those were a dime a dozen at one time.
I recently found an old CPR dummy that with a bit of repair will do the trick.
http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-P0Ql1t7WaYg/Ts6OLr9hdqI/AAAAAAAABJE/6tI4DYr76Xc/s1600/DCP_1285.JPG

The Surfin' Squid said...

Wow, that's fascinating...and creepy. I can see how those would be useful...I can also see how they could scare the living daylights out of you if you were alone in the studio at night.

Dylan said...

Gosh, James.. did you notice that the lay figure at the Museum of London appears to be made in your image! Now THAT is creepy... ;)

Mannequin Historian said...

This is a fantastic article for my research. I am a mannequin historian with an extensive archive dealing with the history of the display mannequin. My research has been placed on the back burner while working on my PhD (Mythology of Love in Film). I can't wait to read the whole series.

Nick said...

There is a mannequin available from Jullian. I don't know how pose-able it is though.

http://www.jullian.co.uk/acatalog/JULLIAN_STUDIO_FURNITURE.html
http://www.jullian.co.uk/acatalog/JB70_Jullian_Mannequin.html