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Fan

Unknown1775/1790

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The folding fan with an attached pleated leaf originated in Japan and was introduced to Europe in the second half of the 16th century. The principles of construction of the Japanese version were adopted, but with European decoration. Carving and painting skills specific to fan production soon developed. A fan was an essential accessory in the formal dress of a wealthy woman. Although its original function was to cool the face, the fan soon became an important tool in non-verbal communication. The manner in which a lady held and moved her fan conveyed her feelings toward those around her.

This fan is made from pleated dark green silk decorated with a gilt edge. Carved in relief across the ivory sticks (in the part of the fan knows as the 'gorge') is the figure of a reclining semi-naked woman. The scene may represent the 'Toilette of Venus'. 'The toilette' describes the process of getting dressed, and was a popular subject in French art of the 18th Century. The guardsticks are carved with the figure of a young girl in classical dress playing a tambourine above her head at one end, and a young man in the costume of the 1780's playing a lute at the other.

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  • Title: Fan
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1775/1790
  • Location: France
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 9 in
  • Provenance: Given by HM Queen Mary
  • Medium: Pleated silk, carved and etched ivory, paste

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