Cheryl Bolen reviews the Victoria and Albert Museum’s book on Fans in today’s article. She shares some of the history of the origin of the fan and its use in Georgian England. Fans have had a place in many Georgian and Regency novels since the origin of the genre. Do you remember that scene in Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades, when Justin, Duke of Avon, used his new fan of chicken skin to annoy his friend, Hugh Davenant? How many romance heroines have employed a fan to great effect in a dalliance with the hero?
Fans are one of those lovely accouterments of a bygone age which few of us use today. But they are still fascinating to many of us, nonetheless. Delicate and beautiful, they can become a weapon in the hands of a woman who knows how to wield it. Fair warning, if you read this review, you may find yourself with a strong desire to own a copy of this book yourself.
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Avril Hart and Emma Taylor
I purchased this book at the Fan Museum in Greenwich, England, but it is widely available through internet book sources. Made of high quality with an abundance of color photographs, the book serves as a reference on European fans and also depicts several of the fans in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London (publishers of the book).
Other noteworthy European fans are in the collection at the British Museum, at Chatsworth House collections (England), The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and museums in France, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Much of the collection at the V&A was donated by the Victorian Sir Matthew Digby Wyatt (1820-1877).
Though ladies’ fans originated in Japan in the twelfth century, they did not come into use in Europe until the last half of the sixteenth century. From then until the twentieth century, they were widely in use, especially during the Georgian period.
Each of the fans pictured in this volume is a genuine work of art. The same painstaking attention to detail found in miniatures is found in fan painting, but on a far more extensive "canvas." The fans were not made of canvas but of velum, silk, or even lace.
The sticks, many of which were imported from the Orient, were made of pierced ivory, tortoise shell, bone, mother of pearl, and fragrant sandalwood.
The most popular motifs for the fans were classical, Biblical, or pastoral in the manner popularized by the paintings of the Frenchman Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). Also, fans served as sort of a take-home postcard from places viewed on the Grand Tour. The books shows, for example, a lovely fan painting of St. Peter’s in Rome.
It was common for a young woman to hold a fan when presented at court, and in the Georgian era women were most conscious of "the language of the fan" in flirtations.
Gilt, sequins, and even embroidery, along with masterful painting could be found on the fans, and cases were made expressly to hold a lady’s fan. There is one illustration of a plain fan box printed thus: Robert Clarke, 26 Strand, London, Fanmaker to their Royal Highnesses the Duchess and Prince of Gloucester. It is dated c. 1790. Just about the right date to throw it into one of our novels for authenticity.
© 2011 – 2013 Cheryl Bolen
This article was first published in The Quizzing Glass, July 2011.
Posted at The Beau Monde by permission of the author.