Miniature Musicians: The Guards Band in Paper and Plastic

With my recent series of posts on marching bandsmen as depicted by Fred Stansell, I’ve been wondering about turning my attention to painting a band myself. I thought of a group of bandsmen that I’ve had for some time buried in a trunk of unpainted figures – (yes, I have a whole trunk of them).

I’m thinking of Airfix’s classic Guards Band. As plastic soldiers go, these are pretty ancient, a miniature Australopithecus from Airfix to our modern Homo Sapiens from the likes of Strelets or RedBox. First released in 1961, this set has long been out of production and will spark off a wave of nostalgia for those old enough to remember it when freely available (which does not include me actually).

In an original box, the band consisted of:

  • x1 Drum-Major
  • x7 Side Drummers
  • x10 Flautists
  • x7 Tubists
  • x5 Saxophonists
  • x2 Cymbalists
  • x4 Trombonists
  • x7 Trumpeters
  • x1 Bass Drummer

My bandsmen were bought in an auction and so came in a ragtag, broken and half-painted fashion. I had plenty of some types but few of another. Of those in working order, I was a bit short on side drummers and trombonists (I have only two of each) but over-subscribed with saxophonists and tuba players.

I’ve evened things up a bit for the underrepresented trombonists at least with a bit surgery, making for three extra. The drummers will have to remain a trifle undermanned.

A two-man band. Half saxophonist – half flautist!

Having removed some paint and glued some limbs, I’m nearly ready to put some paint on them. Given the topic, and being such a very old set with details which are very slight indeed, I’m not sure they are suited to my usual painting style. I think they cry out more for a toy-solder style simple paint job, which I think is sort-of what I’m going to go for.

I fancied having some oboists in my band and thought some of the damaged saxophonists might pass with the end of their instrument missing?

Clarinet player? Almost?

One of the saxophonists seems to have come out of the mould a little awry, leaning back and letting rip!

Being an individualist has made him keen to express himself more freely than his other bandmates – a Guardsmen Charlie Parker or Guardsmen John Coltrane, perhaps?

I envisage embarking on a slow burn project with these, steadily adding some paint as and when I can.

Meanwhile, up for auction on eBay is another marching band of the Grenadier Guards, this lovely lithographed cardboard soldier set. Titled “Drum and Fife Band of the Grenadier Guards”, it is made out of cardboard and was manufactured by postcard company Tuck.

Delightfully illustrated, perhaps it can be considered a forerunner to the “Paperboys” paper soldiers range by Peter Dennis? Famous British army artist Harry Payne painted many military subjects around 1900 for Tuck postcards – so could this be his work? I couldn’t find any evidence of the artist’s name on the example shown.

The Grenadier “Cards” – postcard guardsmen.

A little bit out of my price range for this set but a very pleasing set, nonetheless.

Harry Payne’s Christmas Cards

Thought I’d share on this day an image I found of a Victorian Christmas card depicting the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) gathering mistletoe.

The 11th Hussars gather mistletoe for Christmas.

The so-called ‘Cherry Pickers’ are seen here gathering a different crop to cherries. The regiment acquired the nickname following an incident during the Peninsular War, in which the 11th Hussars were attacked while raiding an orchard at San Martin de Trebejo, in Spain. The colour of the trousers, unique to British cavalry, were adopted from the Saxe-Coburg livery and were described as ‘cherry’. Lord Cardigan referred to his men as the Cherry-Bums (or when ladies were present – the more genteel cherubims).

It must be a memorable painting as I recall that I once received a Christmas card of Harry Payne’s Christmas Cherry Pickers when I was around 12 years old and have never forgotten it. It was originally published by postcard manufacturer Tuck and Sons, one of their 6-part #8085 “Christmas” series and it comes as no surprise that their celebrated military uniform artist Harry Payne had a hand in this.

Men of the 16th Lancers returning with holly and mistletoe – by Harry Payne.

After the first Christmas card was sent in 1843, it appears that cards featuring sentimental scenes of brightly uniformed soldiers were a popular theme in the Victorian era helping connect families and friends scattered across the extensive British empire.

“A Jolly Christmas” by Harry Payne features a wistful trooper of the 17th Lancers leaning on a stable door. Postcard c.1887.

I was surprised to learn that in 2004 famous toy soldier manufacturer Britains produced a “Winter Limited Edition” for their Collector’s Club featuring a representation of Payne’s iconic Cherry Pickers postcard scene in model soldier form! Only 250 sets were made. I’m always pleased to see an artist’s vision of soldiers brought to life in model form. It seems to me to be the perfect Christmas decoration, being something along the lines of my decorative Army of Advent.

And the tradition of modelling military Christmas scenes continues today with Replica Model Soldiers issuing a seasonal scene every year with charming themes include snowballing soldiers, “The Garrison Christmas Dinner” and “US Army Winter Manoeuvres”!

Harry’s Horses

Life Guards at Horse Guards Parade, London by Harry Payne.

When painting 1/72 scale cavalry, I always enjoy adding white markings to my horses’ faces as this provides them with a little individuality and personality. Indeed, these markings are used in real life to identify individual horses in a herd. On the face, they are variously identified as blazes, snips, stars and stripes, depending on where on the face it appears and how extensive it is. Likewise markings on their lower legs are unique to each horses, these can be stockings, socks or boots, depending on their length up the leg.

DSCF2195 (3)
A Prussian cuirassier horse in progress…

Putting the finishing touches to the Prussian Cuirassier horses, I was looking around for a little inspiration and was drawn to my collection of Harry Payne postcards.

The 21st Lancers by Harry Payne

Born in 1858, Harry Payne was a Londoner, a son of a clerk. He went on to produce an enormous number of paintings on military subjects, many being sold as postcards produced by firms such as Gale and Polden, or Raphael Tuck and Sons.

The 17th Lancers: ‘Telling off for road duty’

After attending art school, he worked for a time for a firm of military contractors. By the 1880s, he had developed into a talented military artist and was enormously prolific. Furthermore, he even sold his work to members of the royal family including several commissions during Queen Victoria’s 1887 Jubilee.

Band and drums of the 7th Queen’s Own Hussars

Much of his work was produced with assistance from his older brother Arthur, although in exactly what capacity, I am unsure. No doubt, his assistance was invaluable in being able to produce such a high number of artworks to order. The two brothers produced a book together for the Queen’s Jubilee year with the original illustrations being presented to Queen Victoria herself.

Aside from the postcards, Harry and Arthur worked on illustrated material for The Strand Magazine, The Navy and Army Illustrated, The Graphic, and various books for, amongst others, Cassell, Virtue and Routledge. In 1903, a set of 50 images were painted for a Players set of cigarette cards, entitled “Riders of the World”.

The Hampshire Regiment

Harry Payne was noted for his attention to detail in reproducing the military dress of the British army in his paintings. He research could be extensive and his 23 years spent in the West Kent Yeomanry further assisted his knowledge. Working in oil on canvas or watercolours, he was to prove a popular artist for decades.

The Irish Guards

Although he also painted a range of other topics (cowboys, rural scenes, etc), Payne’s speciality was in depicting the military uniforms of the British army during the late Victorian / Edwardian period. The army was in transition during this time, adopting khaki for its campaigns but still retaining their brightly coloured uniforms for other ceremonial duties. His artworks captured the full range of different orders of dress.

Officer, Coldstream Guards

Aside from accurate and detailed uniforms, Harry Payne was a painter who prided himself in his depiction of horses. The cavalryman was still considered to be a highly effective force at the turn of the century. Whether armed with a rifle, sabre or lance, a cavalryman’s military equestrian skills were highly prized.

Flicking through his depictions of horses, I copied some of their markings to be reproduced on my Prussian cuirassier horses. I’m not an artist like Harry Payne; but aside from our shared enthusiasm for depicting military uniforms, I like to think we might also have in common an ability to derive a certain satisfaction from painting military horses too.

Band of the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabineers)

More on those Prussian Cuirassiers soon.