Time to take a look at the fan - a utilitarian, decorative, and symbolic object from our past.
Pierre Auguste Renoir (French painter, 1841-1919) Woman with a Fan
Hand-held fans can be traced at least back to ancient Egypt, where the fan was seen as a sacred instrument used in religious ceremonies, & as a symbol of royalty power. Two elaborate fans were found in King Tutankhaumuns's tomb, one with a golden handle covered in ostrich feathers & the other was ebony, covered with gold & precious stones. Drawings from 3000 years ago show elegant Chinese ladies using fans. The ancient Greeks wrote poems of fans being the "scepters of feminine beauty" & Romans brought Greek fans back to Rome as objects of great value.
Edgar Degas (1834-1917). Woman Seated on a Balcony
The fan arrived in Europe in the 1500s by way of trade routes & quickly became an exotic symbol of wealth & class. In the 1600s, China was importing huge quantities of exotic fans into Europe, which could provide self-cooling; prevent an unwanted tan; & shield eyes from the sun. The folding hand fan is is said to have been invented in Japan or China with both countries holding legends of its creation. In Japan the fan is thought to be modeled after the folding wings of a bat, while the Chinese believe the sight of a woman fanning her face mask at a festival led to the tool's creation.
By the 17C, fans had spread all over Europe. During the reign of Louis XIV, France became the fan center of the world. French royalty were especially fond of extravagant & artistic fans. One fan, belonging to Madam de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV, took 9 years to make & cost $30,000.
1748 Maurice Quentin de La Tour (French Rococo Era Painter, 1704-1788) Marie Leszczyńska, Queen of France
By the 18C, fans had become more than utilitarian, they were objects d'art for the fashionable lady. Fans became even more popular, as the fad of masquerade balls spread across Europe in that century, hiding the faces of their owners. A paternalistic Joseph Addison, co-publisher of The Spectator, claimed in 1711, that if he could only see the fan of a disciplined lady he could tell her mood and what she was feeling. Addison also satirically boasted to have started an academy for women to be trained in the use & handling of a fan. In regards to fan etiquette he said, "Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them."
The popularity of the fan increased even further with the Japonisme trend of the 2nd half of the 19C. A tradition of an elaborate ritual of fan flirtation reportedly also grew in the 19C.
Eugène Joors (Belgian artist, 1850-1910) Portrait of a Lady
By the end of the Civil War in 1866, there was a great American fan factory near Quincy, Massachusetts, helping increase the availability of fans in America. The owner patented the process by which the fan sticks & the fan leaf (top part) were assembled in one process. This process included folding or creasing & gluing the leaf to the fan sticks at the same time under pressure. This process had not been done before & gave the business a boost on the competition until the factory closed in 1910.
Gaetano Bellei (Italian artist, 1857-1922)
Pierre Auguste Renoir (French painter, 1841-1919) Woman with a Fan 1906
1899 Elin Kleopatra Danielson-Gambogi (Finnish painter, 1861-1919) Woman with Fan
Pierre Auguste Renoir (French painter, 1841-1919) Madame Leon Clapisson Marie Henriette Valentine Billet 1883
William Merritt Chase. Women In Kimono Holding A Japanese Fan
Paul César Helleu (French, 1859–1927) Fan
Edgar Degas. Ballerina and Lady with a Fan 1885
1896 Olga Boznanska (Polish Impressionist painter, 1865-1945) Portret kobiety
Pierre Auguste Renoir (French painter, 1841-1919) Woman with Fan 1880
Gustave Claude Étienne Courtois (French painter, 1859-1923) Anne Marie Dagnan 1880
William Strang (British Painter, 1859-1921) Japanese Fan
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918). Lady With Fan
Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). Girl with Fan
Leon de Smet (Belgian artist, 1881-1966). Woman with a Fan 1928
Leon de Smet (Belgian artist, 1881-1966). Lady with a Fan