A special diorama
A special diorama
At the end of 2022, the administrator of this website came into possession of an old diorama. It was this same diorama that stood in a toy store 50 years ago and formed the basis of a lifelong passion for model figures.
The diorama stood for years in a room of a restaurant. The wood of the box was very dried out, the hood with a fluorescent lamp of one meter in it was literally hung together with Duck tape and the perspex plate at the front had a large number of scratches. The inside was dusty, especially at the front, and a dozen riders were missing their swords and/or were now loose on their horse. But, considering its age, it was still exceptionally well preserved.
The wood was sanded and varnished several times. The lid was completely replaced by a painted wooden plate with a closing edge. Instead of a fluorescent tube, the lighting now comes from an LED strip. That made the whole about 20 centimeters less high. The perspex window was also replaced with a new one. An engraved brass plaque with 'Scotland forever' complemented the exterior restoration.
Next up was the inside. The mirrors on both sides, which give the whole an impressive depth, are slightly damaged here and there. However, there was nothing that could be done about that. Replacement would lead to too much damage. The back wall is painted and a work of art in itself. The fields of Waterloo are easy to recognize. Luckily nothing was damaged.
All figures have been glued individually or in groups on wooden or metal plates by the maker. Then placed after which plaster was poured over it. The plaster is then painted and sprinkled with train track material. The plaster was slightly damaged in several places. This has been repaired and painted again. This was preceded by dusting off the figures and the base plate. Most of the dust was on the front, directly behind the window. A precise job where care was taken not to damage the details.
Finally, the figures. It is almost all about 54mm plastic Historex figures with some Airfix figures (Scottish infantrymen). Here and there a rider was loose on the horse. This was fairly easy to fix with some glue. The broken swords of the cavalrymen lay among the horses and reappeared during cleaning. The swords were replaced with new ones.
I couldn't resist adding a few 'own' figures as well. Especially the Scottish infantry that moved behind the cavalry was very underexposed.
What do we see?
This is not just a nice diorama with hundreds of miniatures. Anyone who knows anything about the Battle of Waterloo will recognize the different uniforms, but may also see that the middle part of the cavalry charge is an almost exact 3D representation of Lady Butler's painting 'Scotland forever'. This painting, one of the most famous of the Battle of Waterloo, depicts the attack of the Royal Scots Grays on the French artillery. The latter is not depicted in the painting, so it is in the diorama.
The painting can be recognized almost by figure and even the attributes that lie in front of the riders (headgear, etc.) can be found in the right place in the diorama. However, there is much more to see in the diorama than on the painting. It shows the surprise of the attack. The French troops literally jump up when they see horsemen charging over the hill. It also indicates the craftsmanship of the diorama builder. Each figure has been thought through, responds to another figure or figures elsewhere and is made specifically for the place where it stands. Almost no figure is a standard figure as you buy it, each figure is composed of several figures or specially made.
Is the image correct? The depicted figures are correct insofar as they are a 1 on 1 image of the painting. They also have the same mistakes as can be seen in the painting. For example, during the battle, the bearskins were wrapped in a rainproof cover, which was not depicted in the painting. Also, the horses at the time of Waterloo were not all of the same type of gray anymore and will have trotted rather than galloped.
The French figures are not depicted in the painting. Here the maker allowed himself to be guided by paintings, some of his own imagination and possibly also by what figures were available. As far as can be determined, the uniforms of the figures are correct. After I had posted some photos on the internet, however, there was mainly criticism of the French interpretation of the diorama. Someone from France responded that it was a beautiful diorama, but that the composition of the French troops in the diorama was a mess. Several infantrymen could never have been there at the time of the Scottish attack. That would of course be possible.
Who made it?
That turns out to be the most difficult question. I know that the diorama must be at least 50 years old, that it is mainly Historex figures from the early 1960s with a single Airfix figure. Airfix first introduced the 54mm Scottish infantry kits in 1970. They may have been added later, which also seems to be somewhat confirmed by the level of painting. That is less of these figures than of the French infantrymen at the front.
As far as painting is concerned, there seems to be more difference between the figures. For example, the skin color of a number of figures is different from each other. This would indicate that there may have been several makers involved. It is also possible that some figures have discolored somewhat over the years due to the bright fluorescent light.
Contact with Historex in France yielded nothing. They had never seen the diorama. Searching the archives of modeling magazines from the 1970s also had no result. A call on Facebook mainly gave many tips on how to continue searching, but only one real clue came. An English modeller could recall a documentary from the early 1970s by someone who had indeed recreated Lady Butler's painting with Historex figures.
The documentary was quickly found on the BBC's site. Indeed, a report from someone who recreated the painting. For him that meant sawing figures, adjusting them with plastic putty, etc. One figure took him several days. The final shot showed his end result. Unfortunately, it turned out to be part of the painting with only a few riders that were exactly like the painting. A work of several months but unfortunately not this diorama. The painting was also of a somewhat different level than that of the figures in the diorama. It does show what an enormous job it must have been to make this diorama.
The costs will also be considerable. If we only assume the number of figures that are in it now, the purchase would amount to more than 2500 euros at current prices. We are only talking about the standard figures, so not the extras for better fitting arms, legs, legs and other parts. Costs of the box are difficult to estimate but should be added.
In short, the question of who the maker was or were makers and why such a large and expensive diorama was built and also why it did not end up in a museum remains unanswered for the time being. We will continue to look for that because it would complete the story of this special diorama.
If you have more information, please contact email@example.com