Last month I visited The Fan Museum in Greenwich for the very first time.
I went along with period costume creator/collector Stephanie Selmayr and we were extremely fortunate to have a private tour conducted by Art Historian and secretary of The Fan Circle International Mary Kitson
Click here to hear Mary speaking about one of the oldest fans on show at The Fan Museum (above) which looks like one Queen Elizabeth I is portrayed as holding in a portrait painted of her in 1592 by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger see: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw02079/Queen-Elizabeth-I-The-Ditchley-portrait
please note, this recording was made in a public space and the quality is limited, there's some background conversation that distracts but do persevere!
In this audio clip you can hear us move on to talk about how historic fans can't all be assumed to have been produced for the purpose of merely creating a breeze, some having been produced instead very much for show. This one (above) for example, is not only made from feathers but has a tiny preserved bird attached to it.
The carving on some fan guards and the precious materials they might have been made of in the past I find quite extraordinary.
In the audio (above) we move on from the room in which the fans pictured above are on permanent display and go upstairs to the temporary exhibition of printed fans that was on at the time of my visit.
You can then hear Mary talking about the vast array of subject matter that would have appeared on printed fans in the early 19th century, ie. including during the Regency, such as: riddles; maps; lists; party game and dance instructions; biblical scenes; botanical and historical subject matter; mythical and classical images.
This one is titled Ich Dien and is no. 7 in the catalogue which can be purchased here
"Wooden fan, the guards with a pierced design. The double punched (découpé) paper leaves are printed in black on either side. On the obverse, beneath a sailing ship sits a queen with a child on her lap. Either side are two female figures representing Peace and Prosperity and Oriental Exotica. Above within a border are the Golden Fleece and a stack of corn (plenty). On the reverse, also within a border with the Prince of Wales' feathers and motto "Ich Dien", is a prayer for the birth of the Prince of Wales (George, later George IV)".
This one likewise relates to royalty
This one is a wonderful example of the fascination of the time regarding Botany.
"Wooden fan, the double leaf printed on both sides, the obverse an etching lightly coloured by hand with various examples of botanical forms with their scientific denominations. The reverse has a series of botanical explanations and eight lines of verse from the "Botanic Garden", beginning "Come ye soft sylphs who from the Paphian Groves etc..." Published as the Act directs, July 21st 1792 by Sarah Ashton, N. 28 Little Britain."
Called Botanical Fan in its catalogue entry (above), it reminded me of what I had read in the British Museum (below), in the Enlightenment room where two of the Mrs Delaney paper cuts are always on show:
This is one of two brisé fans
Fans were taken to the Opera and parties of course but it's obvious why those with educational subject matter would have been popular with those whose education was limited to what was considered suitable for a young lady, of a particular class, to know at that time. It was a clever idea to decorate something that could be carried as a fashion accessory with subject matter that could prompt a conversation and extend the remits of the user's knowledge.
On the audio I mention the popularity of military styling in relation to women's fashion during the Regency period. I was unsurprised therefore to find several examples of fans with printed imagery relating to military subject matter therefore and was interested to find Fans: War & Peace in the museum shop.