Our favorite exhibit during our weekend in Paris was not one we’d planned to see, but one we happened upon. We were supposed to fly out on Sunday morning, but an airline strike canceled our flight. We were re-booked to fly out on a partner airline on Monday. This left us in the enviable position of having an extra day in Paris and a better flight arrangement for the following day.
We decided to check out the tiny Cognacq-Jay museum in the Marais. Its permanent collection is quite wonderful, but we had the great pleasure of seeing a special exhibit: Le Siècle d’or de l’éventail: Du Roi Soleil à Marie-Antoinette (luh see-ek-luh door duh lay-ven-tie: due rwah solay ah Marie-Antoinette), which means “The Golden Century of the Fan: From the Sun King to Marie-Antoinette.” The bottom floor of the museum was given over to glass cases filled with 70 exceptional 18th century fans amassed from public and private collections.
Fans, or éventails, were created by éventaillistes, and French artisans dominated the European market. The éventaillistes were aided by painters, tabletiers (who made the frame), gluers, and pleaters. Their designs closely followed the esthetic of the day, including artists such as Boucher and Watteau. Fans marked the social status of the ladies who wielded them coquettishly in the salons and jardins of France. The beauty of the fans takes your breath away; they are made of precious materials, such as ivory, gold, and silver, or encrusted with jewels.
They also recount a tremendous amount of French history; some displayed inventions, such as the hot-air balloon or the thermometer, others celebrated the birth of a royal prince, while others showed fascination for the exoticism of new lands. Others incorporated those new inventions into the fan itself, such as magnifying glasses. Many show scenes of 18th century Paris – its bridges, fountains, and the Louvre are unmistakable. Some hid secret panels in their sticks that slid back to reveal naughty pictures. Whether objects of beauty or historical documents, the fans are spectacular and the exhibit is well worth a visit.
The exhibit is at 8, rue Elzévir until March 2, 2014. It is open from 10 am to 6 pm, every day except Sunday.