The Art of Folding Fans Appealing to Both Scholars and Laymen
Fans first emerged in the Chinese history with the founding and evolution of hierarchy in the feudal society as a symbol of imperial power as opposed to a cooling tool for daily use. They later got out of the exclusive possession of royal families and became accessible to commoners thanks to the changes in society, development of economy and the revolution of people’s ideology.
The mid-Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD) of China witnessed the popularity of folding fans, which evolved into an identity symbol for dignitaries and nobilities, an accessory for the literati to adorn their elegant life, and a carrier for artists and crafters to express their talents and craftsmanship.
In order to unveil the beauty and charm of fans, popularize the culture of them, and enrich the cultural life of people in the present day, the museum has this exhibition curated based on a selection of exquisite folding fans housed here, revealing the rich and profound culture carried by fans from perspectives of textile for the panel, culture on the panel, carving on ribs, craftsmanship for fan pouches, etc. It is hoped that the viewers, while having a good time at the exhibition, would be able to learn something about art and culture.
Late-Qing Painting & Calligraphy Folding Fan with Gold-coated Panel. This folding fan used for its panel a kind of paper coated with a pigment made of gold powder and glue. Called “mud gold” literally, such type of panels are usually in three shades of golden, “standard golden”, “Buddhist golden”, and “field golden”.
“Standard golden”, namely, the original color of gold. “Buddhist golden”, a slightly darker golden due to the inclusion of copper in the pigment, and “field golden” is a pale golden as a result of the 20% of sterling silver in the mixture. The “mud gold” texture of the panel, while giving a sense of splendor and sumptuousness to the fan, makes it harder to absorb or attach ink and pigment.
There are a wide range of options for materials of fan ribs, including bamboo, sandalwood, ebony, tortoiseshell, ivory, mother of pearl, bones, etc., with bamboo the most common. The application of precious materials not only make the fans more visually-appealing, but also increase their value. This is a folding fan with ivory ribs.
The form of fan head started to be diversified in the end of Qing dynasty and early Republican China era, with shapes including but not limited to square, round (also known as monk-head), flat, magnolia, swallow-tail, gourd, plum-blossom, pointed. This is a folding fan with a swallow-tail-shaped head.
The fan-making industry in ancient China was developed mainly by family-run businesses, usually small in scale, with shops in the front and workshops in the back. The city Hangzhou witnessed a prosperous fan-making industry in the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279 AD). The famous fan stores during that period were Xu Mao Fan Shop in Waziqian, Green Bamboo Fan Shop in Tanqiaoxia, The Chens’ Shop of Painted Silk Fan Tuanshan, etc., while the well-known brands in Hangzhou during the Republican China era were Shu Lian Ji, Zhang Zi Yuan, Wang Xing Ji.
Republican-China Folding Fan with Pine-tree Painting by Tang Di, who was known for his elegant and soothing landscape paintings in imitation of the Ming-dynasty painter Li Liufang (1575-1629 AD), and developed his own unique style in the quaint and graceful paintings of plum trees, bamboo, orchid, pine and cypress trees.
Fans with divided landscapes, as a distinctive category of painting and calligraphy fans, feature pieces of calligraphy or painting in separate sections of one panel divided either by ribs, or patterns on the foundation. These pieces, by different painters or calligraphers in most cases, usually focus on the same theme such as beautiful wishes, travels, etc.