Review: Treasures Of The Fan Museum Makes Us Rue The Rise Of Air Conditioning

Treasures of the Fan Museum ★★★★☆

Rachel Stoplar
By Rachel Stoplar Last edited 28 months ago
Review: Treasures Of The Fan Museum Makes Us Rue The Rise Of Air Conditioning Treasures of the Fan Museum 4
This multitasking fan from c.1740 doubles as a masquerade mask. Photo courtesy of the Fan Museum, London, 2016.

It's not often we do this, but we recommend beginning your visit to the Treasures of the Fan Museum in the toilets. On the back of the fan-printed loo doors (there's also fan-shaped soap, soap dish and mirrors) hangs an eloquent ode to the fan, penned by an unnamed fan-atic of London's Grand Magazine in 1760:

It exercise the office of the zephyrs, and cools the glowing breast. It saves the blush of modesty by showing all we wish to see, yet hiding all that we desire to conceal. It serves the purpose of a mask, covering the face that would remain unknown. It keeps off the rude beams of the uncourtly sun... It hides bad teeth, malicious smiles and frowns of discontent;... expresses the caprices of the heart, nay sometimes even speaks...

We'd quite like to banish the rude beams of the uncourtly sun while expressing the caprices of our hearts with the delightful selection on display here. This is the best of the little Greenwich museum's 4,000 strong collection of fans and fan-related objects; a jolly jaunt from the folding fan's arrival in the west in the 16th century due to growing maritime trade with the Far East to today.

It's a rollercoaster ride through the fan's repeated rise and fall in popularity. We travel from the guilds of France and London's own Worshipful Company of Fan Makers to the fan's downfall after the French Revolution, resurgence with the popularity of the fancy dress ball and the decadence of the early 20th century, to their final and sad decline after the second world war. We learn about some of the big movers and shakers in fan history: the two separate guilds that controlled fan production in Louis XIV's France, the Huguenots who brought fans to England, Queen Victoria whose lace wedding veil made fluttery fans the thing to carry in the 1870s.

This Royalist fan celebrates the restoration of the monarchy, c.1660. Photo courtesy of the Fan Museum, London, 2016.

There are propaganda fans like Vive Charles II (c.1660), an inexpensive one with woodcut prints of crowns, orbs and oak leaves. There are fine art fans like Dalí's 1978 ink sketch of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and a carnival scene painted by Giacometti in the 1920s. There are fancy dress fans with magnificently tasteless gilt scenes of Egypt from the 1860s; newsworthy fans like La Girafe (c.1820) portraying the famous Nubian giraffes gifted to the kings of Europe which caused great fanfare at the time; fans with pastoral, mythological and biblical scenes; fans painted with insect musicians, fans that look like miniature altarpieces; fans made of feather and ivory and vellum and lace; fans of all shapes, all sizes, all purposes.

We obviously learn a lot about fans: their constituent parts, handy terminology, the fact that chicken skin fans are not in fact made of chicken skin (disappointingly). But these fans are also reflections of their times, like portable posters people could carry around to show off their style, their affinities, their interests. And in that, this is an exhibition not just for fan aficionados but for anyone intrigued by social history. Also, they're very pretty. We're fans.

Treasures of the Fan Museum is at The Fan Museum until 5 June, admission is £4/£3. Londonist saw this exhibition on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 21 January 2016

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