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At The Fan Museum

May 20, 2024
by the gentle author

Tickets are available for The Gentle Author’s Tour of Spitalfields on Saturday 25th May

The Fan Museum in Greenwich is the brainchild of Helene Alexander who has devoted her life with an heroic passion to assembling the world’s greatest collection of fans – which currently stands at over five thousand, dating from the eleventh century to the present day.

In doing so, Mrs Alexander has demanded a reassessment of these fascinating objects that were once dismissed by historians as mere feminine frippery but are now rightly recognised as windows into the societies in which they were made and used, and upon the changing position of women through time.

Folding fan with bone monture & woodblock printed leaf commemorating the Restoration of Charles II. 
English, c. 1660 
(Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan (opens two ways) with ivory monture. Each stick is affixed to a painted palmette.
 European (probably French), c. 1670s
 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Ivory brisé fan painted with curious depictions of European figures.
 Chinese for export, c. 1700(Helene Alexander Collection)

Ivory brisé fan painted in the style of Hondecoeter.
 Dutch, c. 1700 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan with bone monture. The printed & hand-coloured leaf has a mask motif with peepholes. 
English, c. 1730

Folding fan with ivory monture, the guards with silver piqué work. The leaf is painted on the obverse with vignettes themed around the life cycle of one man. European (possibly German)  c. 1730/40 
(Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan with ivory monture & painted leaf. 
English, c. 1740s
 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan with ivory monture & painted leaf, showing Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens.
 English, c. 1750s

Folding fan with wooden monture & printed leaf, showing couples promenading. 
French, c. 1795-1800
 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan with gilt mother of pearl monture & painted leaf, signed ‘E. Parmentier.
’ French, c. 1860s

‘Landscape in Martinique’, design for a fan by Paul Gauguin. Watercolour & pastel on paper. French, c. 1887

Folding fan with blonde tortoiseshell monture, one guard set with guioché enamelling, silver & gold work by Fabergé. Fine Brussels lace leaf. 
French/Russian, c. 1880s
 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan with smoked mother of pearl monture, the leaf painted by Walter Sickert with a music hall scene showing Little Dot Hetherington at the Old Bedford Theatre. 
English, c. 1890

Folding fan with tortoiseshell monture carved to resemble sunrays. Canepin leaf studded with rose diamonds & rock crystal, & painted with a female figure & putti amidst clouds, signed ‘G. Lasellaz ’92’. 
French, c. 1892
 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan with horn monture & painted leaf, signed ‘Luc. F.’
 French, c. 1900

Folding fan with ivory & mother of pearl monture, the painted leaf, signed (Maurice) ‘Leloir.’ 
French, c. 1900
 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan with mother of pearl monture & painted leaf, signed ‘Billotey.’ 
French, c. 1905
 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Horn brisé fan with design of brambles & insets of mother of pearl. 
French, c.1905
 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan with Art Nouveau style tinted mother of pearl monture & painted leaf, signed ‘G. Darcey.’ 
French, c. 1905
 (Helene Alexander Collection)

Folding fan with tortoiseshell monture & feather ‘marquetry’ leaf. French, c. 1920

Visit The Fan Museum, 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, SE10 8ER

11 Responses leave one →
  1. May 20, 2024

    Commemorating the restoration of King Charles II was a major historical theme to choose for a largely decorative object.

  2. John Linquist permalink
    May 20, 2024

    Wonderful little works of art.

  3. May 20, 2024

    A magnificent collection.

  4. May 20, 2024

    These are incredibly beautiful objects. I think we have lost something from society that we don’t carry and use such wonderful works of art. I’m on a stuffy train and the best I can manage is a copy of the Metro.

    I must pay a visit to the fan museum. Thank you dear GA for drawing this to my attention.

  5. May 20, 2024

    The fan is one of those few everyday objects whose artistic design is as valuable as its potential uses. In hot summers, it has become indispensable to me as a source of fresh air. Some of my friends wished they had one at that moment!

    I didn’t realise there was a fan museum until now. I visited it this morning — on the website, founder Helene Alexander gives a marvellous report on collecting. Thanks for the story!

    Love & Peace

  6. Margaret Ker permalink
    May 20, 2024

    Husband’s 6th gt grandfather was a London fan painter.
    Sadly he died in the Chelsea Workhouse in 1796 having lost his sight because of his work.

  7. Christine permalink
    May 20, 2024

    Beautiful collection and in my bucket list! I loved how there were secret messages to be sent to gentlemen depending how the lady held her fan! x

  8. Saba permalink
    May 20, 2024

    A beautiful display of painting, carving, and metalwork with fascinating cultural context on many levels. The peek-a-boo mask fan made me laugh. I am particularly struck by the alluring images of women for the use of women constrained by absolutist rules of proper behavior.

  9. May 20, 2024

    So beautiful. I love the motifs — both the expected and the unexpected. (Who would think that turkeys could look this lovely, holding their own in the midst of graceful cranes and preening peacocks?) A totally impressive array. I once saw a fan with flirtaceous eye-openings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute — part of a French fashion exhibit — and the beauty and cleverness of the accessory has stayed with me. I can easily imagine m’lady casting hidden gazes about the ballroom, deciding which swain to honor with her favors.

    Thank you for this History of Costume bonanza! Small museums are glorious — and this one
    looks spectacular.

  10. Marcia Howard permalink
    May 20, 2024

    An astounding collection. I especially love the Walter Sickert one. Thank heavens for the tenacity of Mrs Alexander.

  11. Cherub permalink
    May 21, 2024

    I would love to visit this museum. I have hand painted fans from Barcelona and ones by the ladies who hand make lace in Gozo.

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