Liens, musées etc



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        Chinois ou pas ? 18ème ou 19ème ?
     Chinese or not? 18th or 19th century?

Cette page en français

Even after having collected hand fans for decades, it happens that we keep illusions (youth of heart perhaps?), that we have doubts (wisdom of old age?) or, worse, that we no longer remember when and where we saw an object (advanced decrepitude?). Anyway, we would like to hear the opinion of our kind visitors, so long neglected. The fan that we show here was presented in the recent sale where we acquired it as a "fan decorated with Chinese characters and birds in the branches on the reverse" with "sculpted and openwork bone branches. 28x5 cm. End 19th early 20th century".

When the auctioneers are presented in television programs as experts, those who frequent the auction rooms laugh softly (including the "commissaires de justice" themselves, a new name for the "commissaires-priseurs" now incorporated into the mass of bailiffs). We all know that such omniscience would only be possible for God, who, as far as we know, has never taken any other profession here below than that of carpenter. We therefore do not reproach the person who thus described the fan that we show below.

Let's take a look at its monture first. Note that the french word "monture" means the sticks and the two guards. Automatic translators often turn it to "mount", not knowing that mount is the traditional English word for leaf! Here, the monture  is unquestionably from the mid-18th century, and its workmanship as well as the size of 28.5 cm suggest an English production... or for the English market. It must indeed be remembered that in France in particular the fan makers adapted their production to the tastes of the countries to which they exported their goods. Georgina Letourmy, p. 91 of his 2006 thesis (which can be consulted in the library), recalled what a professional of the time said: "
In Paris, fans are made which imitate those of foreign countries so perfectly that the workers themselves cannot distinguish them". (BnF, Western manuscripts, Joly de Fleury collection 2018 fol 261). And the author of these lines, in his own 2015 thesis (p. 91-92, available online), wrote:

As soon as 760, the Journal de Commerce (Brussels) advertised the sieur Guyot, "manufacturer of fans in Paris, rue Quincampoix", who claimed to have "...a factory of all kinds of fans, both in wood and in bone, ivory & mother-of-pearl, as well as all kinds of leaves painted and printed in the manner of Paris, & in imitation of those of England, of which a part is superior to them for the design & the beauty of the illumination " (Journal du Commerce 1760, p. 195).
Another ad from the same publication two years later told us that
"… M. Modeste Roussel (who will be Modesto Rous when in Spain!), Manufacturer of fans in Paris […] excels in the new taste he gives to his works, mainly in rich fans, such as fans of mother-of-pearl, ivory, molded tortoiseshell and not molded, for Holland, Germany and Spain. He directs the heights for each country. He also makes the common fans in bone and Indies wood, & gives them the most fashionable taste, all at fair price. […] He supplies, as his father-in-law did, the Court of Spain and Portugal” (Journal de Commerce 1762, p. 172).

So it is quite obvious that if the style and the dimensions say something about the date of making, it is sometimes very difficult to know where a fan was manufactured, especially when it is an object of English taste, at a time when Anglomania was beginning to spread in the French society. Be that as it may, everyone will agree that the monture you have in front of you cannot be "end of the 19th century - beginning of the 20th century".

détail monture

But what leads us to ask you questions is the leaf. For sure, this one represents a palace scene characteristic of the so-called "Mandarin" or sometimes "Canton" fans, or even "mille visages" (in French... English speaking persons, more realistic, speak of "one-hundred faces "). The best study on this subject is in our opinion that carried out by our late friend Thomas DeLeo. We will borrow some images and thoughts from him below.

If one generally associates with the "mandarin" fan the figures with applied ivory heads, these motifs seem to take up models applied before the fans on porcelain or on wooden objects, such as screens, on which the expression "one hundred faces" would have been used first (
cf. Brigitte Nicolas, Un brin de panache, Musée de la Compagnie des Indes, 2019, p.78). The images below are taken from Thomas DeLeo ("The Mandarin Pattern"; FANA Journal Fall 2020, p. 43 -porcelain, c. 1720- and p. 45 -screen, late 18th century-).

porcelaine  paravent

We also find this type of representation on18th-century fan leaves, like those shown by Thomas DeLeo
(op. cit, p. 28), which he dates from the last part of the 18th-century, or on another pair, referring to Qiu Ying (1494?- 1552) but closer to 1800 (CPHB collection), a detail of which is reproduced below.

Qiu Ying

But let us come back to the leaf that motivates this question! Here is a detail below. The leaf appears printed and perhaps even decorated with light gouache (?). It is of course interesting to compare it to a common "mandarin" fan leaf. The inspiration is obviously the same.

détail feuille


But what is it exactly? Which copies the other? If the fan leaf with the c. 1760 monture was contemporary with it, it is would be a rare prototype that could have served as a model for "Mandarin" fans of the 19th century, just like the leaf after Qiu Ying (?) shown above. If the "current mandarin" fan precedes the other leaf, which seems more realistic, our fan is a very skilful and harmonious marriage between mid-18th century European sticks and guards and an equally European chinoiserie leaf a hundred years younger. Thomas DeLeo, in the article cited above, shows (p.39, photo below) an European chinoiserie leaf married around 1870 to a monture dating from the 1770s or 80s. He also shows (p. 38, other photo below) below), an advertisement for a Spanish house offering Mandarin-style leaves as soon as 1853.

pub mariage

Looking at the reverse of our fan, we are not much further ahead. This trendy bird (a crested lapwing?) corresponds well by its style to what is often found on the verso of certain Chinese fans, which Thomas DeLeo linked to the school of Macau. This reverse is obviously chromolithographed. While working on this subject, I found a similar fan (see below) which appears in the catalog Chine -Chinoiseriesau château de Maisons, an excellent exhibition (November 2005 to January 2006) organized by the late Michel Maignan and the Cercle de l'Eventail. This was, I think, the last opportunity we had to meet Rae, the dear Tom DeLeo's companion. This fan, lent by Lucie Saboudjian (expert and well-known specialized merchant) appears p. 107 under n° 72. The monture is said to be Chinese from the beginning of the 19th century, and the double chromolithographed leaf from the end of the century. If the reverse is totally different from the one we show, it is of the same inspiration. As for the leaf, it has a border that does not exist on our fan; but the essentials seem identical .


                LS Maisons revers  LS Maisons face

Alas, the quality of the photos does not allow a definitive conclusion. The marriage between a beautiful 18th century monture and a much later printed leaf remains very interesting. Were these fans mass marketed? By which fanmaker? Do you have other fans with this same leaf? With which reverse and what kind of sticks?... Can you give us your opinion on the origin and the precise dating of these printed leaves? As you can see, by appearing to answer the original question, I only prompted new ones. Don't be afraid to make a mistake: you will never make it as big as an auctioneer can do!

P.H. B. décembre 2022

Thank you in advance for your contributions. Of course, all other pieces of advice, opinions or questions are welcome!

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