In the first of these two articles looking at hand fans in fine art, I showed paintings in which fans are a feature. Here I show a few of the fans painted by artists, other than as mere decoration.
Several French Impressionists were enthusiastic collectors of Japanese art, and their own work fell under the spell of Japonism. I’ve been unable to discover which of them first explored the potential of the fan as a form of painting, but it seems to have happened in the five years after the First Impressionist Exhibition of 1874.
The two who were early enthusiastic painters of fans were Edgar Degas and Camille Pissarro. At the time, both were broke and desperately seeking means of increasing their meagre incomes. Decorated fans may have seemed a good little earner at a time when the more affluent were looking for novelties, particularly those to be given discreetly to a mistress.
It appears that it was Degas who encouraged Pissarro to paint fans, in the hope that the Impressionist Exhibition of 1879 would have a whole room devoted to these works. Although that didn’t happen, a few examples of painted fans have survived from this period.
Pissarro’s The Cabbage Gatherers is thought to have been painted between 1878-79, and shows countrywomen harvesting cabbages in the fields near Pontoise. This was most probably shown at the Impressionist Exhibition, although not in its own room as Degas had hoped.
This was bought fairly quickly by one of Pissarro’s first American collectors, Louisine Elder, who was to become Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, thus a major patron of the arts in general and Impressionism in particular. Thanks to the mediation of Mary Cassatt who acted as Elder’s agent, Pissarro sold his first fan, and it was shipped to his first American collector.
The only painted fan that I can find by Degas is his Dancers on the Stage from about 1879. Whereas Pissarro had worked in gouache on silk, Degas used pastel with ink and wash on paper, which could have been cut out and mounted in the fan mechanism itself.
Over the next decade, Pissarro painted more fans too, including this view of The Railway Bridge at Pontoise from about 1882-83, again using gouache and watercolour on silk. His motif here is reminiscent of Monet’s paintings of a similar bridge at Argenteuil almost a decade earlier.
At that time, the struggling Swedish painter and illustrator Carl Larsson was in Paris. He must have seen some of Pissarro’s painted fans, and as he was switching to his mature medium of watercolour, painted this superb Rococo Idyll, in 1884. At the left, an elegant Rococo gentleman – a recurrent figure in Larson’s paintings at this time – is sat at a table under a chestnut tree by a lake. It’s autumn and the leaves in the foreground have already changed colour. In the misty distance is a couple in a rowing boat.
Pissarro used the same media for his Shepherds in the Fields with a Rainbow from 1885, but then seems to have stopped painting fans.
Paul Gauguin also started painting fans. The earliest of these works that I’ve been able to find is this French Landscape after Cézanne from 1885, apparently painted in gouache on canvas. He has written a dedication to a friend, which was signed in Copenhagen. This dates the painting to the first half of that year, as in the June he moved back to Paris following an unsuccessful attempt to work as a tarpaulin salesman in Denmark. It’s also unclear why he painted this landscape, which is far from being Danish, in the style of Cézanne.
In the same year, Gauguin painted this fan with a far more conventional French Landscape. Whether this was intended as a contrast to that in the style of Cézanne isn’t clear.
The following year, probably after Gauguin had gone to live in Pont-Aven in Brittany, he painted this Basket of Flowers and Fruits (1886), returning to a more modern style which may again have been intended to recall that of Cézanne.
Gauguin’s Little Cat at a Bowl from 1888 shows a kitten who has half-climbed into a bowl on a table, which is covered with a squared cloth. Next to it is a pile of dark green fruit, and below those what could be the rear end of a mouse, or another item of fruit.
Gauguin continued to paint fans well into the 1890s, it appears. His Ondine III from 1889 was painted between his break-up with Vincent van Gogh in Arles and preparations for his trip to Tahiti. It bears a dedication to a Doctor Paulin, and is the third in his series of paintings of this water nymph frolicking in the waves.
The last of Gauguin’s painted fans that I have been able to locate was made following his return from Tahiti, when he continued to paint Tahitian motifs. Arearea (Joyfulness) II dates from 1894, two years after his original Arearea, and is an adaptation of its motif to the fan format.
A few other artists continued to paint fans too. The Swedish painter Anders Zorn perhaps inevitably chose this pair of Bathers in 1889, the year of his great success at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. This is one of the few fan paintings by major artists which bears the marks for folding and mounting in the slats of a real fan.
In about 1890, when he was studying in Europe, the Australian Impressionist Charles Conder painted this unusual fan in sanguine, a red hard pastel stick used to model tone in studies for finished works. This is pictured in an early biography of Conder, but I’ve been unable to discover anything more about it.
By the end of the nineteenth century, fan painting seems to have died out among major artists. My last example, though, comes from the little-known Anglo-French Symbolist painter Louis Welden Hawkins.
At the turn of the century, in an effort to improve his family’s income, Hawkins turned to making masks and fans in fashionable Art Nouveau style. These proved most popular at the Exposition of 1900, as shown in his Fan (1905), below, painted in gouache.
I’m sure that wasn’t the last painted fan of the century, but the vogue for them seems to have died quietly, as has the use of the fan as a fashion accessory. Perhaps with climate change they’re due for a comeback.