Time for another missive from our Museum of the Month… The Birthday of the Dauphin never actually got made into a fan; instead it was mounted and the ‘missing’ bits filled in to make a more conventional painting. Nobody’s quite sure why it didn’t fulfil its purpose, but its beauty and unusual origins possibly had something to do with it. Painted around 1681, it shows Louis XIV of France and his family. At the time, members of the Guild of Fan Makers were not allowed to paint living people (a right reserved for court painters), so this fan was clearly commissioned by someone important, perhaps even the King himself.
Historical sleuthing pinpoints the event depicted as the Dauphin’s 20th birthday. The woman in the blue cloak (‘France’) places gold coins at the Dauphin’s feet – we know Louis XIV gave his only surviving child 50,000 ecus to go and buy himself some art (hey, it happens to us all). We also get an indication of the year from the three figures at the front of the picture with their backs to us; three members of the French royal family died in 1681. There’s also what could be a tremendously bitchy comment by the artist, painting the new German wife of the duc d’Orleans, La Princesse Palatine, holding her fan the incorrect way.
You can see this fan / painting in the main reception room as part of the permanent exhibition.