A Brief Look At Fans…

During the late 19th Century and early 20th Centuries, fans were considered an essential fashion accessory and especially for any woman who wanted to present herself in the best possible light. Recently, we had an opportunity to take a look at some as part of the A Graceful Gift: Fans from the Mona Lee Nesseth Collection Exhibition at the FIDM Museum in Downtown Los Angeles. Introduced into Europe during the 17th Century from the Far East, the folding fan evolved from a functional item designed to keep the user cool to something that was more decorative than practical.

Folding fans came in a variety of materials ranging from the very simple and utilitarian to the ornate and materials ranged from wood to brass and ivory. The fan itself was usually made from a treated parchment (although other materials such as silk were used) which often featured painted or printed scenes. Below are two fans from 18th Century France and the variation in style is readily apparent, from the practical…

To the ornate…

Now, from the FIDM Museum exhibit:

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Fan, Spanish, c. 1850 – 1865

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Close-Up Of Fan.

The frame appears to be made of mother of pearl. All manner of scenes were painted on the fan leaves, many focusing on Oriental themes, a reflection of the then-current fascination for Chinoiserie. Painting scenes on the fan leaves were also popular as an at-home pastime and blank leaves were readily available.

Below is another example:

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Fan, French

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Close-Up Detail

Finally, here is a fan that is attributed to having once belonged to Phoebe Apperson Hearst:

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Fan, Félix Alexandre, artist Dumoret, jeweler France, c. 1875–85; Constructed of Mother-of-pearl, point de gaze lace, gilded silver & diamonds; FIDM Museum (2013.975.2AB)

Overall, it was a small but interesting exhibit. Fans are an easily overlooked fashion accessory but were considered an essential element in any respectable woman’s wardrobe. As applied to recreating period fashions today, vintage fans are readily available at a variety of price points but it must be noted that many of these are fragile with age and are not able to withstand any sort of prolonged use. There are also reproductions and restored originals but it’s been our experience that the reproductions are for the most part, substandard and a faint echo of the originals.

We hope you all have enjoyed this brief overview of fans and in the future we’ll be posting more in regard fashion accessories. 🙂

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