Hand fans, held and wafted to force convective cooling in hot conditions, didn’t appear spontaneously in Europe, but seem to have been brought from the Middle East at the time of the Crusades. Following the Renaissance they became more elaborate, a fashion accessory that could also be used for surreptitious communication between lovers when in company, and other purposes.
In this weekend’s two articles, I first show a selection of paintings in which fans are featured, then tomorrow I show a few of the painted fans made by artists.
In Antoine Watteau’s The Foursome from about 1713, one of the two elegant ladies holds a partially open fan against her body as she inspects the musician.
Edward Savage’s portrait of The Washington Family painted between 1789-96 shows the President and his wife, who modelled for the artist during the winter of 1789-90, and two of her orphaned grandchildren. They are gathered round maps of the nation’s new capital named in honour of the President. The First Lady is pointing with her fan to a location which the artist described as “the grand avenue”, which probably represents what is now the National Mall, rather than Pennsylvania Avenue. Apparently it was more polite to point with an object like a fan rather than a finger.
The arrival of the Chinese fan in European fashion was marked by Whistler in his Princess from the Land of Porcelain (1863-65). Unlike earlier European fans, most from China and Japan didn’t fold away.
Eva Gonzalès’ pastel portrait of a Lady with a Fan from about 1869-70 shows an elegant woman standing next to a pot of plants placed on a low stone wall, looking away from the viewer towards two sailing ships on the sea. Her fan is fully unfurled and apparently in action.
Marie Spartali Stillman’s Self-Portrait from 1871 is fascinating for including elements of both the Pre-Raphaelite in terms of her mediaeval costume and Renaissance treatment, and the fashionably Aesthetic in her Japanese fan.
The following year Alfred Stevens painted The Japanese Parisian (1872), showing a woman dressed in fashionable Japonisery, and holding a fan behind her back, is reflected in a large mirror.
One of Félicien Rops’ recurrent themes is of a Woman with Puppet and Fan, here seen in his first mixed-media version of 1873. These are variations on the same elements, of a ‘simple tart’ playing with a puppet, which is the allegory of (male) man. Here, the woman holds the limp puppet in the palm of her hand and a folded fan in the other hand.
For John William Waterhouse, fans were an essential part of Dolce Far Niente, at least when they’re made of feathers. The painting above from 1879 chooses white feathers, while that below from the following year prefers feathers from a peacock, for their association with vanity and extravangant fashion.
Pioneer Japanese painters in European style like Kuroda Seiki were more on their home ground, in this case in his painting Lakeside from 1897.
Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale slipped the occasional fan into her paintings too. In The Deceitfulness of Riches from 1901, it’s another one made of peacock feathers.
When the Japanese Impressionist Fujishima Takeji trained in France he first studied under Fernand Cormon, then learned portraiture under Carolus-Duran in Rome, where he painted this well-known work, Black Fan (黒扇) (1908-9).
My last painting featuring a fan is perhaps the most puzzling for a fashion accessory associated with elegant dress and opulence. Late in his career, the American George Bellows did more figurative and portrait painting, including this Nude with Fan. This is notable for its richly-lit landscape vignette, a tradition going right back to the northern Renaissance, and the fan she holds in her right hand. They are peacock feathers again.