I think I’m now the greatest expert on 18th century French fans in the Boston area. I just finished reading Le siècle d’or de l’éventail: du Roi Soleil à Marie-Antoinette (luh see-ek-luh dor duh lay-ven-tie), which means “The Golden Century of the Fan.” I bought the book after having seen this beautiful exhibit at the musée Cognaq-Jay when we went to Paris over the Thanksgiving break in 2013. The fans were dazzling and several had remarkable extra features, such as tiny perfume vials, thermometers, and magnifying glasses. I enjoyed the exhibit so much that I bought the exhibit book.
I started reading it when I got home, but then I misplaced it. I looked high and low to no avail. When Christmas morning came, the book reappeared – wrapped as a present from my husband. He somehow thought he’d bought it for me. I haven’t let him live that one down. Since then, our daughter has taken him in hand to help him at Christmas.
Once I had the book back, I didn’t dive right back in. Since I’ve beed trying to read through my backlog of books before buying any new ones, it was time to finally become an expert on fans. Here are some fun fan facts:
- The philosophe Denis Diderot insulted painters who exhibited at the Salons by saying their canvases would “make good fans”;
- Although they were unsigned and undated, they can often be dated by examining buildings, bridges, and monuments in the background;
- Famous 18th century painters like Wateau, Fragonard, Boucher, and Le Brun and didn’t paint fans, no matter what the auction catalogue says, so don’t pay extra for fans that make such a claim;
- Sometimes fans were done first in draft form for important clients, to get the details just right. One design has handwritten notes made by Louis XIV, with lots of spelling mistakes.