Luxury & Excess: Mid-to-Late Nineteenth Century Fans

The Fan Museum

Explore the essential costume accessory of the nineteenth century. 

The Age of Opulence
In the second half of the 19th century, the painted fan truly reasserts its status as an essential costume accessory – reinvented as a symbol of overt luxury and excess. No doubt encouraged by Eugenie, Empress of the French, herself an avid wearer of fans, the fashion-conscious & the moneyed once again took up the fan with unabashed fervour. Paris' temples of spectacle - its Balls, Theatres and Opera houses - once more were aflutter with painted fans of the finest quality. Painted with great finesse the leaves are often emblazoned with pastiche subjects after Watteau & Boucher or bevies of cherubs and sprays of full-blown roses. This period of conspicuous consumption is accurately reflected in the fans of this period.

Awakening Love, circa 1865

Fan with pierced and gilt ivory sticks, the guards set with silver gilt plaques with turquoise and seed pearls; signed Wiese.

The canepin leaf is painted on the recto with a seated female surrounded by putti, watched by a male figure from behind a nearby tree; signed A. Soldé.

Al Fresco, cica 1880

This French fan with canepin leaf is painted with an imitation eighteenth century fete champêtre; signed Donzel.

Cleopatra's Feast, 1867

Fan with carved and gilt mother of pearl sticks decorated with Egyptian motifs and, in the centre, the death of Cleopatra. The double canepin leaf is painted on the recto with a scene representing the 'Banquet of Cleopatra' along the bank of the Nile.

The Queen (left) is shown in the act of dissolving her priceless pearl earring in a cup of vinegar, while Mark Antony (right) similarly reclines opposite.

Master Fan Maker
It is during this period that well-known painters were invited to decorate and sign fan leaves. Master Fan Maker Félix Alexandre noted that there was a market for top quality fans, which could incorporate some of the most sumptuous sticks with high quality painting.  As a result Alexandre assembled a coterie of gifted painters, many of whom exhibited at the Paris Salon.

Shepherdess, 1983

The double canepin leaf is painted with numerous figures and, in the centre, a 'Fountain of Youth', purported to restore the youth of anyone who drinks or bathes in it.

Fountain of Youth, circa 1860

In the centre, a 'Fountain of Youth', prized for its restorative properties. The figures on the left enter the water dressed in eighteenth century attire while to the right figures emerge wearing fashionable nineteenth century dress.

The verso is painted with a medallion (with three of the Muses supported by putti) and incorporates the coat of arms of Eugénie, Empress of the French; signed Alexandre.

Exhibiting Fans
The universal exhibitions, which proliferated after the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851, would sometimes have a section showcasing the art and craft of fan making, which at this time reached an apogee...

Plighting Their Troth, circa 1860

This fan was a wedding gift to Princess Stephanie (of the Belgians) on her marriage to Rudolph von Hapsburg (the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire) from her uncle and aunt, the Count and Countess of Flanders in 1881.

It is ornamented with 1,500 rose diamonds. Signed 'Cesare Dell'Acqua' and dated 1881.

Happy Ever After, circa 1870

The double canepin leaf is painted on the recto with nymphs and putti amongst clouds; signed and dated J. Calamatta, 1870.

The verso signed Alexandre, designer and painter who rose to fame during the 1850s to become fan-maker to Empress Eugenie, the Queen of the Netherlands and Queen Victoria.

Princess Mathilde, 1884

This fan belonged to Princess Mathilde (1820-1904). Her Salon was one of the most important in Paris even after the fall of her cousin, the Emperor Napoleon III.

The fan is made of tortoiseshell sticks, one guard set with a gold and diamond crown and diamond monogram. The skin leaf is painted on the recto in monochrome with two female figures in traditional dress; signed and dated Paul Jamin, 1884.

Never were fans more diverse: from the modest bone fan with a colour printed leaf, to carved, gilded mother of pearl or ivory sticks (sometimes signed) to leaves painted by artists who had exhibited at The Salon, such as Soldé, Parmentier, Andrieux, Calamatta, Moreau, Jamin and many others. In doing so, these artists bestowed upon the disciple of fan painting a credibility hitherto attained. 

Night and Day, circa 1895

Fan with pierced and silvered smoky mother of pearl sticks. The double canepin leaf is painted on the recto with nymphs and putti cavorting amongst clouds. The verso is painted en grisaille (entirely in grey monochrome) with trophies of Love and rococo motifs.

Signed Vanoni.

The Family Billotey
The family Billotey comprises at least three generations of recognised artists, some of whom painted fans. For instance, M. Louis Billotey receives sixth mention as part of a competition to design fans organised by the Société d’Encouragement à l’Art et à l’Industrie in 1900. Julie Elisabeth ‘Marie’ (born in 1857) and her sister Valérie-Aline Colombo-Billotey, (born in 1860) are also recognised for fan painting.  We believe the latter to be the most prolific painter of fans, and most probably painted this particular example. This assumption we base upon written descriptions of exhibited fans attributed to the younger of the two sisters and also upon the sole comparison of a signed painting of pansies by M. Montaignac-Billotey with that of the fans within the collections of The Fan Museum.

Birds Among Roses, circa 1890s

Fan with engraved and gilt mother of pearl sticks. Silk leaf painted on the recto with birds and insects, guelder roses and autumnal foliage; signed 'Billotey'.

Fan with iris, Billotey, circa 1890s

Fan with mother of pearl sticks. The silk leaf is painted with iris and dragonflies and backed with gauze; signed on the recho with the distinctive 'Billotey' signature.

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