Wooden doll, unknown English maker, c1740–50
This particularly fine and well-preserved doll was donated to the Curtis Museum, Alton in 1949. Her earlier history is unknown, although she was obviously a treasured possession and came with a poem written by the then owner, part of which reads:
All stitched by hand and shaped to fit
A figure slim and good
You’ll hardly think it possible
That I am made of wood.
I’ve said my age, you’d never guess
But as you’ve thought and wondered
I’ll save your brain from further strain
My years are near three hundred
Her age may have been over-estimated in the poem. She is certainly an example of the so-called ‘Queen Anne’ dolls, but these were made throughout the late 17th and 18th century and not just in the reign of Queen Anne. English doll makers of this period were renowned for their fine and delicate work, although most remain anonymous. By the end of the 18th century, the quality of work in England had deteriorated, due to competition from cheaper wooden dolls made in Germany.
The doll’s detailed and complete set of clothing reveals the work of either a very accomplished amateur (possibly a lady from a wealthy family indulging her passion for needlework) or that of a professional dressmaker showing off the latest fashions on her ‘pandora’ or fashion doll. What is certain is that the doll has not been played with much, if at all, by a child. It would have been very much a case of ‘Look, but don’t touch!’. Nevertheless, she has a broken finger.
How was she made?
Her head and body are made from one piece of wood, which has been turned on a lathe and then carved. The separately-made legs are jointed at the hips and knees. Although her hands are delicately crafted out of wood, her upper arms are made of either soft linen fabric or kid leather, attached to the torso. For her eyes, the doll maker would have carved diamond-shaped holes into the head, and then added drops of blown glass.
The wooden parts of her body and head are painted with cream-coloured paint, over a coating of gesso (a mixture of plaster of Paris and glue). Less fine dolls of the period were only painted on the face and neck. The painter’s final touch is to add her eyebrows, lips and cheeks. She has a wig of real hair.
What is she wearing?
She is dressed in a complete set of original clothes. Her outer garment is a sack-back dress (a style of dress with the fabric at the back pleated at the top and falling loosely to the floor). This dress is made of silk brocade (a silk with a woven floral and stripe design), with a buttoned stomacher (v-shaped panel of stiffened material worn across the chest and stomach), a pair of separate pockets, two linen petticoats, a wicker and ticking hoop or pannier (to give shape to the dress), a pair of stays (corset), a linen shift, a muslin cap, knitted stockings, and silk brocade shoes soled with leather.