Thursday, February 25, 2016

Fans, Fan-making, and the Fan Museum at Greenwich.

 
Afternoon tea at the Fan Museum
I love a beautiful fan, and they have been the must-have accessory for  young women in the UK since the 1500s. Though not widely used now I think most people with an interest in history of fashion wish they'd make a come-back! 
The Fan Museum at Greenwich is dedicated to the history of fans and craft of fan making, and holds over 5,000 fans and fan leaves with examples from all over the world from the 11th century to the present day. This year the museum is celebrating its twenty fifth anniversary and the museum’s curators have handpicked an array of fans that showcase the extraordinary diversity of the museum’s holdings.

Exhibition highlights include seventeenth century fans painted with mythological subjects, elaborately carved & gilt rococo confections, and twentieth century fans by artists George Barbier and Salvador Dali.
They also do the most wonderful afternoon tea in a beautiful room painted with trompe l'oeil scenes so I would highly recommend making a day of it! 




Amusing motto at the Greenwich Fan Museum
If you can't go to see the exhibition itself, you can search the collection - a wonderful resource for Regency writing or just for drooling over. 

Here's a very potted history of fan making.
Elizabeth 1 holding a feather fan
Queen Mary received seven fans as a New Year’s gift in 1556, and a number of portraits in the 1570s show her sister Queen Elizabeth 1 holding a rigid fan of feathers set in a bejewelled handle - it’s claimed that the fashion for fans and other accessories in Great Britain was born at this time following the tastes of Italy and France. Folding fans followed soon after - the records show that repairs were made on fans ‘with branches of Iverye’ or ‘blackwood’.
The fan industries of Western Europe evolved through the 16th and 17th centuries, before they established their own guild. The charter of the London Guild of Fan Makers was awarded by Queen Anne in 1709 and protective legislation was introduced to curb the import of fans. By 1723 it was claimed that English ivory carving was as good as the Chinese, and that English fans were as good, if not better than the French.
Chinese Brise Ivory fan-1790s
By the end of the 17th century it had become usual for the fan leaf (and often the back too) to be decorated with figures in settings. Most subjects were associated with romantic love, but Biblical and mythological subjects were considered suitable too. As well as painted leaves, print was also used, sometimes hand-coloured after printing. Fans were used widely outdoors and indoors, and the demand was great by the 18th century. Printed fans could be used for political ends, social scandal and other news such as the royal family’s visit to the Royal Academy in 1788. Other printed leaves might show the rules to a card game or show popular destinations on the Grand Tour. By the 1790s printed fan leaves were being issued by silk mercers as well as print publishers.
The role played by jewellers was important - Queen Caroline and Queen Charlotte both owned fans with guards encrusted with jewels.
In this period the royal ladies also enjoyed decorating fans. In 1786 the Princess Royal completed four fans and two muffs for the King’s birthday celebrations and four years later described ‘finishing a
Princess Frederica
beautiful fan for the Queen, with feathers, flowers, insects and shells …’ The painted leaves would have been made into fans by professional fanmakers, and many were proud of their royal associations.
In 1791 Prince Frederick, Duke of York married Princess Frederica in Berlin, followed by an English ceremony in the Saloon at Buckingham House - now Buckingham Palace. The description of her fan states that the ‘whole is of pierced ivory held together with coquelicot ribbons … the outside sticks, in exception to the ivory are of gold, in the form of a chain closely set with diamonds … The inner sticks of ivory, when open, exhibit an oval medallion of His Royal Highness the Duke of York in relief, a correct likeness and masterly execution … It’s a beautiful fan, part of the royal collection.
In 1797 printed fans were published with the rules of ‘Fanology’, the secret language employed to allow ladies to ‘converse at a distance on any Subject without speaking.’ In the 19th century this was developed into lists of ‘signals’, which could be made by holding a fan in different ways. A fan held in the left hand in front of the face meant ‘I’d like to get to know you’, a fan drawn across the cheek declared, ‘I love you’, a half-opened fan pressed to the lips meant ‘You may kiss me’, whilst one drawn through the hand meant ‘I hate you’.
An example of a cockade fan
Ivory fans from China were prized for their skilled carving, and the best were paper thin. Cockade fans, which open to a 360 degree circle were first recorded in medieval times and were still popular in the 19th century. This type of fan was ordered from England and were often worked on from designs sent over to the customer’s preference.
With the hardships during the Napoleonic Wars, fan production dwindled in the early 19th century. As communication improved quantities of high quality fans were imported from Paris once more, despite the efforts of the guild.

In Northanger Abbey Jane Austen uses the fan as a way for Catherine Morland to avoid having to dance with John Thorpe - in the hopes she will soon see Mr Tilney!

The others walked away, John Thorpe was still in view, and she gave herself up for lost. That she might not appear, however, to observe or expect him, she kept her eyes intently fixed on her fan; and a self–condemnation for her folly, in supposing that among such a crowd they should even meet with the Tilneys in any reasonable time, had just passed through her mind, when she suddenly found herself addressed and again solicited to dance, by Mr. Tilney himself. With what sparkling eyes and ready motion she granted his request, and with how pleasing a flutter of heart she went with him to the set, may be easily imagined. To escape, and, as she believed, so narrowly escape John Thorpe, and to be asked, so immediately on his joining her, asked by Mr. Tilney, as if he had sought her on purpose! — it did not appear to her that life could supply any greater felicity.


I have several beautiful books on fans - 
The Fan Museum by Helene Alexander
Unfolding Pictures - Fans in the Royal Collection by Jane Roberts, Prudence Sutcliffe and Susan Mayor
Advertising Fans by Helene Alexander
Presenting a Cooling Image by Helene Alexander and Russell Harris 

Jane Odiwe
Mother of Pearl fan - 1830s

14 comments:

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

A fascinating post, Jane. And I love the delicacy of the ivory and lace fans in the photos. I have a fan specially for the Proms when temperatures are high. The Albert Hall's air-conditioning is very discreet (they don't want an audible whirr) but, as a result, it can be stifling. When that happens, a forest of fans appear!

It's good to know that they still have their place.

And you are right about the Fan Museum's tea room!

Fenella J Miller said...

I might try and visit. Greenwich is just doable for me from Colchester. Thanks for an interesting post.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Elizabeth-I love the ivory fans too, the craftsmanship is incredible. I like to twirl a fan now and again, though, as you say, it's usually when it's hot!

Fenella, thank you, I think you'd love the museum!

Theodosia Pixietwist said...

Hi Jane, what a great article and the museum sounds quite a gem. Can you give more information on the lovely fashion plate of the pink gown? Thank you.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Theodosia, I'm glad you enjoyed it - it's an Ackermann's print from 1812.

Rachel Donnelly said...

What a great article. I'm so happy you posted the picture of that gorgeous cockade fan.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Rachel, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Isn't that fan beautiful?

Joana Starnes said...

Thanks for this lovely and exquisitely informative post, Jane! I've never known there was a fan museum in Greenwich, this is a must see! Loved the beautiful photos and the lines about the uses of the fan. I think we've lost a wonderful and very versatile accessory.

Jane Odiwe said...

Joana-you'd love it! Perhaps we ought to organise an outing of authors and anyone interested in going. Yes, I wish they'd bring fans back in a big way!!

Amanda said...

These look wonderful, Jane. I, too, didn't know about the museum. Thanks for posting.

Deborah Ann said...

Thank you for this wonderfully informative post and for the link. Another place to add to my list of places to visit when I get to England.

Deborah Ann said...

Thank you for this wonderfully informative post and for the link. Another place to add to my list of places to visit when I get to England.

Jane Odiwe said...

Thank you, Amanda-I know you'd really enjoy it-hope you can make a trip one of the days!

Thank you, Deborah-I hope you manage to get to England soon!

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