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century and early Twentieth were
less afraid of caricature than is our early Twenty-First
century. Many polemicists
of the time would
have been nowadays fined or imprisoned, for the irreverent texts or
designs they produced
then. Particularly, anticlericalism took then a magnitude
that previous epochs in this century had not tolerated. This
left traces in one of the French conceptions of secularism, which is not always seen as respect
for religion and conscience
but rather as a battle against the Roman Catholic Church.
Are the fans we present below in this vein? We do not know, and that's why we ask our readers.
A diabolical Capuchin?
"plein vol" (180° span) fan has wooden
They are tinted in
and pierced with leaf motifs. The guards have similar motifs but
sculpted in relief. The
rivet is made of metal, with a brass loop. The double leaf is made of
fabric (satin silk). The obverse is painted in gouache, the reverse is
woven with tonal stripes.
obverse is particularly original. Besides
an architectural element on which is written: "Couvent des
Capucins - Salle
Pérot, 27 avril 1881", a Capuchin monk, a rosary around
his neck, his head buried under his cap, holds in his right hand a
crucifix. The left
hand is in a move that seems designed to push (more than to bless) a
swarm of ten fantastic creatures, appearing in a luminous cloud. On
the left, closest to the monk is a quadruped with a long neck and,
apparently, two oblong breasts pointed skyward. At
the center, another being is like a
with four legs. At
the right is another bipedal
long nosed and
wide eyed monster,
with a tail and a crest but without visible wings. Above
is a crowd of seven flying creatures. A couple of them vaguely resemble
birds, the others being completely fantastic.
had never seen such a fan... but in 2023 we found another one ! Here it is:
However Kathy Maxwell, an Australian fans collector and researcher,
reminded us of a fan by Clairin for the fanmaker Alexandre (which we
think was auctioneed some years ago?). It was illustrated in 1883 by La Vie Parisienne. The object we show here
was perhaps a source for the illustrious Clairin and Alexandre? This
fan (or a similar one, because the designs are not identical) belongs
to the Fan Museum in London, and can be seen here.
(photo B.n.F. www.gallica.fr)
As for the fans we are studying, the first one was at first failed in an auction sale to attract bidders,
perhaps because of its strange character. Lucie
Saboudjian, expert, whose hand fans experience is
long and whose competence is widely recognized,
had in fact titled this lot "Le
Capucin diabolique" (the Diabolical
She described: "a Capuchin invoking the succubus." That,
in our view, was enough to decrease the number of bidders, most of them
being respectable undevilish ladies! But,
of course, this was a humorous notation meant to relax the sales room,
as our own words only want to entertain our visitors.
what indeed are the Succubuses? We did not meet them in or since 2016; at least
do not we recognize them. The
etymology is accessible to the beginner Latin scholar since the word is
formed of sub (under) and cubare (to sleep, or to lay on). The
Oxford dictionary online gives the following definition: "A
female demon believed to have sexual
intercourse with sleeping men". Note that in French sucubuses
are male. The
French Academy, in its 1718 dictionnary wrote:.. "Succubus, masculine substantive. They are
called the devil, when, in the opinion of some people, they take
the form of a woman to have carnal company of a man". The
Academy linked the word with its antonym "Incubus", whose definition
was " Sort of demon that, following
a popular error, abuse of women." We
leave our readers specialists of gender studies think about the
differences between these two definitions. In our opinion, devils,
being fallen angels, are asexual.
we do not see here, unfortunately, lovely young women but,
probably, the demons before they
take on this prettier appearance. But how ist it possible to confirm this statement?
It is indisputable that the monk depicted on the fan wears a
garment used by the monks of the Franciscan
family (founded by
Saint Francis of
Assisi, dear to
Pope Francis, who borrowed
his name). The Capuchins are characterized
by the use of the
cap which, by its
color and the fact that sometimes their bure includes a white part has given its name to the
Without a doubt, as proved by the comparison with
a Zurbaran's painting showing the saint, the monk depicted here is a
Capuchin. We see besides him his floating girdle,
whose nodes recall
the vows of poverty, chastity
and obedience. The second would be greatly compromised by
the action of succubus...
Museu Nacional d'Art de
Inventory number: 011528-000
Does the Capuchin on
the fan invoke
succubi (if they are
succubi: remember that to fool the men they take more attractive
forms!!!). We would think he rather repels them, before he
succumbed to the charms of their avatars ... or after.
Maybe, his "Vade retro, Satanas" accompanied by
the gesture of the
hand and the presentation of the crucifix would bring the return of the devils
to their real form,
of nature, it
must be said, to deter anybody from sins
of the flesh.
What do we see
on the second fan? The monk is turned in the other direction, he still
holds a rosary in his hand but no more crosses and under his hood one
believes he can guess a bearded face decked out with a nose that is
more bulbous than hooked! The succubi have disappeared, but the
mysterious Capuchin is now accompanied by a pig playing a stringed
instrument (perhaps a lute?). Drawings of pigs playing a guitar (and
even a real pig!!!) are fairly easy to find on the internet, but we
haven't seen any dating from before 1881, which perhaps makes this fan
a precursor object.
Why this scenes on fans ?
is the interpretation given to this scenes, how the hell (dare we say)
do we find them on hand fans, a feminine object more
often crowded with putti, ancient
deities or matrimonial biblical scenes than with demons, Franciscans or pigs? (Although we remember our visitors our "piggy fan" on this website).
must, of course, place us on the date of the fan: 1881. In that late
nineteenth century, science thought about to vanquish all
superstitions, but sometimes in fact stays close to them. Jean-Baptiste
Charcot (1822-1893) reached that year consecration. By
studying hysteria, he opened the way for Freud, but also attracted
Magnétismes, in 1882,
the Frencch well-known author Guy de Maupassant called Charcot a
"laboratory breeder of histerics (...) to whom he inoculates madness
no time, makes
them demonic". At
this moment, in Europe, in parallel with spiritualism (serious people
are turning the tables, invoke the spirits and make the dead speak), a
Satanist current grows. To
stick to France, one can evoke Les
Diaboliques by Barbey d'Aurevilly, a novel published in 1874 but
confiscated by judgment, and republished in 1882. The French Novelist
will highlight Satanism in his novel Là-Bas
historical case of Gilles de Rais (a source for Bluebeard) allows the
novelist to address contemporary manifestations (black masses, esoteric
Kabbalah, occultism). Note
here that it is in this darkness that Huysmans began thinking... And
this led him back to the Catholic faith, followed by a number of
intellectuals of the time. Perhaps, the Capuchin of the fan has managed
also to drive out his demons?
As for the other fan, it is difficult a priori
to know the significance of the presence of the pig. This animal has
certainly been the subject of caricatures for centuries. It is often
associated with lust, but also with dirt, and even seen in
anti-Semitic caricatures (the Jewish religion prohibiting the
consumption of pork...). A single contemporary example of the fan will
be shown with caricatures attacking the French writer and polemist
Emile Zola, presented as too "materialistic" and as a pornographer.
These caricatures are borrowed from John Grand-Carteret, Zola en Images, Paris, Félix Juven, s.d. 
To bring more meaning to this fan, we must
take an interest in the inscription: "Couvent des Capucins - Salle Pérot,
27 avril 1881".
"Salle Pérot" (Pérot Hall) is difficult to locate precisely because it
has certainly gone, and we find for it various addresses: 20, rue
Ordener, 5, bd de la Chapelle, 29, rue Riquet. All those streets
ar are north of the popular district of
the Goutte d'Or in Paris, in the vicinity of railroad tracks, with
street numbers that have changes and a urban scenery which has
continuously evolved since
despite the constance of some elements.
This Salle Pérot is known as a place of political and trade union
activities. It is known that there existed a Blanquist club in 1870,
led by the revolutionary, free-thinker and a Freemason Théophile Ferré
(shot in 1871). In his diary, mentioning her action during
the Commune of Paris, the famous Louise Michel writes, about "vigilance
committees" in revolutionary Montmartre: "In the evening, I
found mean to be present at both clubs since that of women,
rue de la Chapelle, at the local Tribunal, opened the first. So we
could after attend to half of the sitting at the Salle Pérot, sometimes
the entire session. Both were wearing the name "Club de la Revolution,
district des Grandes Carrières."
During railway strikes
in 1910, this hall played also its role, since according to newspaper Le Petit Parisien on Monday, October 10, 1910, "The
strikers from depots, that held no
yesterday, are convened this morning at six o'clock, Salle Pérot, 20, rue
Ordener. " On month before,
as the panel beneath shows, the Socialist Party organized there a
meeting in favour of birth control, "Free Love" and "Free Motherhood".
It seems this
Salle Pérot had a link with a "Salle Garrigues", where "the citizens of Clichy
met on May 17, 1903,
in the 'grande Salle Garrigues', a
number of 600 under the
chairmanship of Mr. Mascuraud,
and said they no longer want to pay the priests and
claim the separation
of Church and State, the
complete secularization of the Republic ". Shortly after it will be the
headquarters of the newspaper L'Anarchie,
which will house for a time the Belgian-Russian Victor Serge, a French
speaking revolutionary and writer.
To make it short,
this "Salle Pérot" has of course never sheltered a Capuchin convent, but definitely welcomed many activists and revolutionary syndicalists, socialists, freethinkers or anarchists.
But what happened there on 27 April 1881?
about the fanmaker Kees
This is not the place for telling the history of Kees. In 2005,
it was the subject of an exhibition at the regretted Musée de l'Eventail in Paris,
with a booklet by
But since this fan
wears on its reverse the signature of Ernest
Kees, we take this opportunity to say a
First, how should we
pronounce that name?
It is common under
the influence of the domination of the Anglo-American language, to hear people saying "Kiss" (mostly
by French, Anglo-Saxon people lengthening the two "e" syllable). The fanmaker Sylvain Le Guen, at the time still not
a "maître d'art" and the head of a Parisian "Maison", but already
talented, played with this pronunciation to make the pleasant fan we show below.
However, the pronunciation
be only "Kess"
because of the German
origin of the family (that we have indicated
some years ago in the © Wikipedia
article dedicated to Kees). We can take for proof the "editorial
publicity" reproduced above.
It was published in
a Livre d'Or des Fiançailles & du
Mariage, some time
after Ernest Kees
had sold his
business to Alfred Marie,
installed in 1890
at 9, boulevard
des Capucines. And
as we see, even
of Kees turned into Kess... which would have been
absurd if the pronunciation was "Kiss"!
But to return to our
"diabolical Capuchin fans," we'll
just watch the
beautiful signatures on
the reverses. As it
should be, since the fan is dated 1881, the address of Ernest Kees is still at 28, rue du Quatre Septembre.
Questions to our dear friends and
usual, these questions are real questions that we can not answer,
in spite of our
1) What happened on April 27th, 1881 in the Salle Pérot?
2) The handwritten signatures of Ernest Kees (rather a talented painter, it is said) on the
verso of the fan are more elaborate than
often. May it be a sign that he would be the author of the paintings on the obverses ?
3) Have you ever seen (and where) the surreal or surrealistic creatures, or the playing guitar pig, that adorn this item?
Please have the kindness of responding (or
giving any question or
the link provided in
the site's home page. We
will not fail to thank you, and to share your finds,
as soon as they move
us towards truth.
Many people expressed their
opinions, either by email or on Facebook, via your servant page (https://www.facebook.com/pierrehenri.biger)
or those of the Fan Circle International (https://www.facebook.com/fan.circle?fref=ts)
CI or Collecionisti di Ventagli (https://www.facebook.com/groups/104785799621603/?fref=ts)
and we thank them heartily.
For the moment,
1) many of you saw a spout under the hood of the Capuchin, and many
also noted that the hands and one foot, under the bure, appear with
claws. This would make the Capuchin himself a diabolical creature. To
be honest, we ourselves had that feeling, but not to influence our
visitors, had preferred to say nothing;
2) Aldo Dente, an Italian recognized fans specialist, noticed that the crucifix seems held upside down,
reinforcing the idea of a satanic ritual;
3) our late friend Gerald Gould, husband of Sylvie (an emeritus hand fans
collector) thought the painter used hallucinogenic substances, and
several correspondents mentioned a relationship with Bosch. Another found
that the black spider creature in the foreground does not seem from the
same hand than the rest; but, looking at the fan in hand, we believe
that this impression comes from que position of this creature backlight
to the bright cloud.
4) Although no one can unfortunately find there a direct link, Dr.
Alice Labourg (Rennes 2 University), whose thesis was on The pictorial imagination in Gothic novels
of Ann Radcliffe, made a wise reference to the works of this
kind, particularly with The Monk by
"evil" hypothesis taking shape, even as a parody or a caricature, but
definitely anticlerical, we will add that this subject was fashionable
since the publication in 1875 by Isidore Liseux (himself defrocked,
Latin scholar, editor and known for his militant atheism) of the
translation of a manuscript by Father Ludovico Maria Sinistrari
(1632-1701) : De la Démonialité et
des animaux incubes et succubes où l'on prouve qu'il existe sur terre
des créatures raisonnables autres que l'homme, ayant comme lui un corps
et une âme, naissant et mourant comme lui, rachetées par N. S.
Jésus-Christ et capables de salut et de damnation. This book,
which seems genuine, speak especially of reality and nature of
succubus and incubus (which would not be demons but animals...).
Let us add that by
ourselves, we found mention in various histories of Paris Streets or
Montmartre, of a "Bal Perot" located rue de La Chapelle, which in all
likelihood gave way to the "Salle" of the same name. This change would
have been quite easily : if one believes the newspaper L'Union Monarchique du Finistère (Saturday,
March 22, 1884), political meetings often ended in ball (see the
Our fan may have belonged to this mixed category.
Alas, all this still does not answer our questions.
So thank you for your support, past, present and future!
Let us end by pointing out an obvious kinship: that of Robertson's phantasmagorias
: those projections of magic lanterns with ghosts, phantoms and
mysterious creatures took place in 1799 in the former Capuchin convent
of the Rue Saint Honoré in Paris. Chateaubriand wrote: "The community
of the Capuchins is sacked, the inner cloister serves as a retreat for
Robertson's phantasmagoria." But this is a subject we will probably
come back to one day, about another hand fan.