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Paper
Beauty in Hand: The Art of the Hand Fan

Paper

Eighteenth-century advancements in printing technology brought the hand fan to the masses. At this time, it was discovered that wood pulp from coniferous trees could make paper quickly and cheaply in factories. Previously, paper for hand fans was made from rags, which was a more laborious process. At the beginning of the Victorian era, fan makers often used paper to make hand-drawn copies of fans from earlier eras, such as ancient Japan. At the beginning of the twentieth century, paper fans became “walking advertisements” in an outburst of promotional ploys.

Unknown Maker, Fan, Unknown Date

This large paper fan features painted white and pink flowers with grey foliage, decorated on both sides of the leaves. The sticks appear to be made of bamboo with narrow, ivory guards. The paper leaf is attached to the guards with thin wire.

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries saw the development of the paper fan and its entry into the consumer market. As paper was cheaper to manufacture and purchase, hand fans quickly became available to a wider range of people. As such, they became more visible in society outside of the aristocracy. Fans inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, such as this one, were also commercially appealing because they added to the variety of objects and accessories a painter could offer the customer.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Impressionism became one of history’s most influential artistic movements. Many of the leading Impressionists including Edgar Degas painted on paper fan leaves. These compositions tended to be inspired by Japanese culture, which continued to influence Western design and art.

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Hand fans would have been a deeply intimate object, allowing for the expression of personal values, styles, politics and beliefs. Fans offered the means by which the owner could project a range of opinions and views (because at the time, some women were considered better seen than heard).

Unknown Maker, Fan, 1880-1889

This ink on paper and lace fan features an intricate filigree pattern. The fan is complete with a gold pleated ring and a long silk tassel. The delicacy of the colour, lace and rhythm of the design combine to put fans such as this object on the highest standard of artistry.

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Hand fans would have been a deeply intimate object, allowing for the expression of personal values, styles, politics and beliefs. Fans offered the means by which the owner could project a range of opinions and views (because at the time, some women were considered better seen than heard). Additionally, fans adorned with lace were known to have connotations with the upper class and wealth. Lace added prestige to a paper fan, which was often used to flirt discreetly in public. 

Outside the world of hand fans, fashion designers in the 1950s experimented with products and materials developed by chemical and paper companies to create elegant and avant-garde printed clothing. For example, this skirt from the Agnes’s collection, designed by Jonathan Logan Inc. in New York in 1955, was made from nonwoven synthetic fabric. It was referred to as a “paper skirt.”

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Footnotes
Image Credits