Friday, September 17, 2010

The Return of the Fashionable Fan?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Susan reporting:

There was a time when no lady would have been without a folding fan. A fan was a utilitarian accessory in an over-heated drawing room, as well as a useful weapon in the arsenal of flirtation. Fans could also be an extraordinary symbol of wealth and taste: a delicately hand-made status symbol par excellence.

Ladies throughout Europe recognized and desired the work of the most skilled fan making houses in Paris, and among the greatest was the House of Duvelleroy, founded in 1827 by Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy. Though the French Revolution had made fans with their aristocratic associations unfashionable, Duvelleroy gambled that the style pendulum would swing back. He gathered the best craftsmen – including workers in ivory, tortoise shell, exotic wood, and horn as well as engravers and painters and other artists skilled in mother-of-pearl inlay, enamel, and even feathers – and created beautiful fans to tempt a generation of ladies who had never known the opulence of the previous century. His gamble paid off. Soon every fashionable lady throughout Europe and America craved a Duvelleroy fan, and he was appointed the fan maker to many of the royal courts. The business continued to grow throughout the 19th century, remaining in the family until the 1940s.

Noted the style-conscious Art Journal in 1851: "No lady's corbeille de mariage [wedding gifts] is considered complete without one of Mr. Duvelleroy's fans. Some of them are indeed perfect bijoux, and are decorated with a profusion of expensive ornament which render them objects of the greatest luxury. Besides being studded with precious stones, the most eminent artists of Paris do not scruple to make their most finished designs upon them."

The fan above is a beautiful example from the 1880s, depicting a pair of romantic 18th c. lovers. The painting is believed to have been done by Alice Helen Loch, an award-winning water colorist. The scene is hand-painted on doubled silk leaves, and embellished with polished brass and steel sequins. The sticks are made from ivory, pierced and decorated with gilt silver and silver pique work, and the rivet is a button of carved mother-of-pearl.

Such exquisite design would seem to have no place in a modern world where it's an iPhone or Blackberry that nestles in a stylish female hand. But as Duvelleroy himself knew, the only thing certain about fashion is that it's always changing. Two young Parisian women have recently purchased what survived of the House of Duvelleroy (sadly reduced by the 21st c. to a service for restoring antique fans), and are determined to bring back the Duvelleroy fan as a must-have accessory. Here's a recent story about their plans, along with a sampling of their gorgeously contemporary designs. Are you tempted?

Above: Pastoral Reprise fan, Duvelleroy, Paris, 1880s. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Below: Photograph of the London showroom of the House of Duvellleroy, c. 1900.


Unknown said...

The French impressionist's made fans also:

[Text below from the Met wall labels]
"Degas envisaged a room devoted to fan paintings in the 1879 Impressionist exhibition and hence encouraged Pissarro and other colleagues to execute painted fans. This work is contemporary with the dozen examples Pissarro showed in that exhibition and is characteristic in subject and style. After these first efforts, Pissarro continued to make fan paintings until the late 1890s. "

Reproducing an example of one by Pissarro:

and Degas:
"In 1879, when Degas painted this fan, he was organizing a room at the Salon des Indépendants devoted to the painted fans of Félix and Marie Braquemond, Forain, Morisot, Pissarro, and himself. Cassatt, who owned this fan, considered it "the most beautiful one that Degas painted." She sold it to Louisine Havemeyer in 1919."

Monica Burns said...

I LOVE fans almost as much as I do my swords! LOL I have two that I display. One is made of peacock feathers. It's a soft, lush feel to it, fashioned in the style that was used in the late 1800s / Edwardian era. The other is a lace fan that is probably more similar to those used in mid-1800s.

BTW, Susan. I'm reading The King's Favorite and I'm thoroughly enjoying the read!

Meghan McKay said...

I adore fans! There is a beautiful Du'velleroy fan in our local history museum that belonged to a local lady who was a Pabst Beer heiress. She bought the fan on her honeymoon to Paris. So not just queens wanted these fans, but American ladies, too! Here is the link to it.

Diane Donald said...

I love fans, and have even since I was a girl. I teach a Scottish Country Dance class, which is rather aerobic (more than its English cousin), but also quite genteel. At our yearly ball (and many of the smaller dos throughout the season) many of the ladies, myself included, carry fans. Not only is the coolness a welcome relief, they really do look stylish. I'm thrilled to see them coming back!

Katya said...

Look how gorgeous they are. I want one:)

Chris Woodyard said...

Gorgeous works of art!

I have carried fans as an accessory since college. I would think that movie stars, WAGs, and other celebs edging into the hot flash years would make designer fans as luxe a commodity as handbags and shoes.

Jane O said...

I adore fans. I can remember that when I was a child, my friends and I would paint pieces of paper and then fold them into fans and pretend we were great ladies or princesses or whatever we were being at the moment.

It would be lovely if they came back into fashion, especially if they were followed by enormous hats dripping with feathers and bows.

Pauline said...

The French Creole ladies of old New Orleans were nuts for Duvelleroy fans. Just snapping one open at the theatre could turn friends green.

My Aunt used to go on about her "Tante's" Duvelleroy fan being sold "like livestock" when funds were low during the depression. She also swore up and down that the fan in the hand of the Creole beauty in that scandalous Sargent painting now known as "Madame X" was a Duvelleroy.

Chris Woodyard said...

Is Madame X in the Singer-Sargent painting actually holding a fan? I thought it was just folds of her velvet dress. There is a portrait by Antonio de la Gandara of the same lady in an ivory satin dress holding a feather fan. Perhaps that is the Duvelleroy fan your Aunt meant?

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Good to see so many fans of fans! *g*

Since Blogger ate the links that Michael provided, here they are as tiny urls. They're gorgeous.

The fan by Pissaro:

The fan by Degas:

Also, here's the link from Meghan of the Pabst heiress's fan:

Here, too, is a link to Sargent's "Madame X" that Pauline mentioned:

She appears to be holding a black fan, but since it's shut, it's impossible to tell the maker. But since Madame Gautreu did have expensive tastes, I wouldn't be surprised if the fan's a Duvelleroy.

And, last of all, here's the painting by de La Gandara that Chris mentioned - that could well be another Duvelleroy fan.

Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

And many thanks to Monica for the kind words for "The King's Favorite." Glad to hear you're enjoying Nelly Gwyn's story! :)

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