Museum Mannequins

Whenever two or more museum-folk strike up a conversation, it isn’t long until museum-mannequins are brought up. No matter what you do in a museum, you’ll have an opinion on them. And not just any opinion, a strong one. So strong in fact that if anyone disagrees with you then the only way to resolve the issue is over tea and cake.

On my adventures, I’ve come across quite a few wonderful examples of the museum mannequin. Have you seen my pinterest board dedicated to them? I’m not the only one who has a bit of a ‘thing’ for them either – Tincture of Museums has done a great post about them. And I thought, you know what,  it’s time I did one myself.

That face looks familiar…

I, for one have a soft spot for these plastic people. So does a friend, who’s favourite work of museum-mannequinalia is affectionately referred to as ‘Joan Collins WAF’.

A mannequin bearing a remarkable resemblance to Joan Collins
A mannequin bearing a remarkable resemblance to Joan Collins

I think you can see why.

By the way, does anyone else think that this dummy from the Sherlock Holmes Museum looks a it like Matt “Doctor Who #11” Smith?

A Scandal in Bohemia
A Scandal in Bohemia

It’s probably just the hair…

But it’s not just the dummies that kind of resemble famous faces that we love/loathe, if that was the case then the World’s Worst Waxwork Museum would never have closed its doors.


Recently brought to my attention was this spectacular piece of mannequin art, and yes there *is* an art to the display of the museum mannequin. There is so much more than just the obvious story you’re trying to tell (which is invariably, “look, people wore clothes like this once.”)

As you can see, there is so much more than that going on here, it’s a story of love. Unrequited? Perhaps, but all the more scintillating for it.

Yes I’m being silly here, but the point is that the image, the tableau, the whatever it is wouldn’t be anywhere near as compelling without the models modelling the clothes. They’re inviting us to invent stories for the people that would have worn clothes like this.

The fact that they can be as camp as Christmas only adds to the fun.

From modelling to museum-ing

Let’s have a look at these examples…

Policewoman mannequin
Policewoman mannequin
Policeman mannequin
Policeman mannequin

Long-term readers will remember them from an adventure to the Old Police Cells in Brighton, where we were told that the models had had a previous career in fashion. Lingerie to be precise. I’d imagine that quite a few of our beloved and beloathed museum mannequins have had a similar career change at some point in their lives.

Could it be the end for ‘crap dummies’?

It’s hard enough as a real life human to get a job in museums nowadays, and our pinnochio-like posers are facing a similar challenge. As much as some people enjoy a crap dummy in a museum, it’s hard to deny the fact that they are, well, a bit naff. It’s something that the anti camp like to gleefully point out to us who do like them. But, museums are upping their mannequin game.

The Natural History Museum’s One Million Years exhibition gave us two incredible dummies, and from all the fuss around them -rather than say, the objects- it’s clear that quite a bit of money had been spent on them.

Neanderthal man
Neanderthal man

But it’s not just ancient ancestors getting the mannequin make-over treatment, long-dead kings are getting it too. Did anyone else see Richard III’s head as it travelled around the country?

Richard III head at the British Museum
Richard III head at the British Museum

Or, perchance take a gander at Henry VIII at the Mary Rose?

Waxwork model of Henry VIII
Model of Henry VIII

Just look at the codpiece on that…

Despite this surge in upmarket mannequins, I don’t think that there will be a time when museums don’t display the more *ahem* traditional style dummy. Even these new ones will age and look dated eventually, and let’s face it, they’ll never stay in your imagination as much as something like this from Brading Roman Villa.

A museum mannequin from Brading Roman Villa
A museum mannequin from Brading Roman Villa

Or even stalk your nightmares as much as this…

Melted and damaged mannequins after a fire in the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum in London, 1930.
Melted and damaged mannequins after a fire in the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London, 1930.

So, here’s to the museum mannequin, long may they stay!

(And now I’m thinking that there should be a museum of museum mannequins. What do you think?)




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