History of Fans


Fans again mirrored the social and economical times in the twentieth century, with the rise of advertising and a more utilitarian and wasteful society. Today, in Europe, only in Spain is the fan part of everyday life, as it still remains in most hot countries, particularly in the Far East, and especially in Japan


Few art forms combine functional, ceremonial and decorative uses as elegantly as the fan. Fewer still can match such diversity with a history stretching back at least 3000 years. Pictorial records of the earliest fans date from around 3000 BC and there is evidence that the Greeks, the Etruscans and Romans all used fans as cooling and ceremonial devices, while Chinese literary sources associate the fan with ancient mythical and historical characters. Early fans were all of the fixed type, and the folding fan does not appear either in the East or the West until relatively late in its history. The first folding fans were inspired by and copied from prototypes brought in to Europe by merchant traders and the religious orders who had set up colonies along the coasts of China and even Japan. These early fans were reserved for Royalty and the nobility and, as expensive toys, they were regarded as a status symbol. Whiles their montures (i.e. sticks and guards) were made from materials such as ivory, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell, often carved and pierced and ornamented with silver, gold and precious stones, the leaves were well painted by craftsmen who gradually amalgamated into guilds.


By the 18th century fans were being made throughout Europe, while at the same time, fans imported from China by the East India Companies were ever popular. By the end of the eighteenth century with the cheaper printed ones in production, fans were available to every strata of society in Europe and related to an endless variety of subjects- from Nelsons Victory of the Nile to instructions on How to play Whist, and not lose your temper! In the nineteenth century (with its early political turmoil), fans again reflected the times in the small brise horn fans so popular in the 1820s. Arguably the most lavish fans date from the second half of the century. Artists who painted these fans were often fashionable painters of their day who signed their work. On the other hand, the Impressionists, for example, who did not reflect popular taste and painted fans, never made their designs into wearable objects.