A breath of fresh air : fans from Joséphine to Eugénie

An exceptional exhibition offered by the city of Boulogne Billancourt, with the curator Georgina Letourmy-Bordier


If today we appreciate to have a fan when the temperature goes up, in the 19th Century, it was a tool of elegance and an absolute necessary instrument to be identified in society, even if it means to forget to fan yourself for the sake of your comfort. 

Guided by Georgina Letourmy-Bordier, we went to the exhibition "Fan… from Joséphine to Eugénie" organised by the city of Boulogne-Billancourt at the Paul Marmottan Library. Let's have a look at the amazing history of this object, from the Frist to the Second Empire. Matters of fashion, technical innovations, political speech... A folding semi-circle that is much more than a simple ventilator ! 


Fan to be fashionable 


The end of monarchy and of the 18th Century establishes a new clothing trend. Dresses get finer and fans are smaller, but always mais toujours spectacular

Exhibition "Fan... from Joséphine to Eugénie, Paul Marmottan Library ©Alain de Baudus




They are not painted by artistes anymore, but still look like true objects of art : lace fans, embedded with glitters, of horn or of pierced ivory, become the attire of elegant women who only need fans to better attire. « So many holes make the fan perfectly useless for its original role, that becomes a purely social object » the curator of the exhibition, Georgina Letourmy-Bordier, underlines.


Garland, around 1820. Broken type fan, pierced and painted in gouache fan, H.t.15,5 cm. © collection particulière - photo : Philippe Fuzeau


In order to stand out more, some women own spyglass fans "to get closer to some documents or paintings and to pretend to be intellectual ».

expo l'éventail de joséphine à Eugénie Boulogne Billancourt

Fan called "cocarde" with optical. Around 1800-1820. Horn, optique à la rivure, L.20,5 cm / D.15,5 cm. © Collection particulière - photo : Philippe Fuzeau



"In a way, to have a fan is like posting on Tweeter !" 


The end of the 18th Century sees the ascent of the young general Bonaparte and the following years will be those of his coronation. The rich society supports Napoleon and women want to let everyone know about their political opinions. Then, what's best than bearing the portrait of the Emperor on your fan ? For Georgina, "to have a fan, is sometimes like posting a tweet !".

Women who go on supporting Napoléon in spite of the Restoration will use ingenious fans : spread in the usual way, the fan is politically correct, but spread the other way (thanks to a technical prowess), the branches unveil condemned Napoleon, at a time when you were supposed to praise Louis XVIII.

Fan called "double-entente" or "four images". Around 1820. Broken type fan, pierced and painted in gouache fan, 15,4cm. © collection particulière - Photo : Philippe Fuzeau




Georgina Letourmy-Bordier also shows us that beyond the political fonction  " the fan is a way to prove that we know about the latest trivial events". For example, one of the pieces presents the theme of Zarafa, the new giraffe arriving at the Jardin des plantes. Apart from the fact that the panel presents "an unfolding story that should entertain people", it was a way to prove that we actually followed the news. Of course, it was impossible to keep this fan for too long without going out of fashion. Here is a reason to have a new one done. 


The Second Empire : a wind of novelties blows on fans


We are following the exhibition's curator in the last room, that of the Second Empire, fan's golden age. Empress Eugénie adores Marie-Antoinette's style. It is then naturally that fans come back and that artists paint courteous themes on the leaves. The Second Empire is a great period for innovation and patents that benefit the producers of fans. Incidentally, the visit ends on an invention by Eugène Rimmel (a name well-known by today's women) that consists of inserting a coton of fragrance on the fan that blows a scented breeze. Elegance et grace guaranteed !

expo l'éventail de joséphine à Eugénie Boulogne Billancourt

Exhibition "Fan... from Joséphine to Eugénie, Paul Marmottan Library ©Alain de Baudus





Georgina Letourmy-Bordier, curator for the exhibition and expert for auction houses

Gerogrina Letourmy-Bordier



It is not by chance that Georgina became curator of this exhibition. It is a passion. At 12 years old, she spreads her first fan and discovers its amazing decoration. It is the starting point that will lead her to study art history and to write, in 2006, the first thesis on old fans. She becomes curator at the musée Cognacq-Jay with "Fan's golden century, from the Sun King to Marie-Antoinette",  followed by the honourable exhibition "Fan… from Joséphine to Eugénie"


Georgina's knowledge on the field of old fans brought her to the doors of auction houses, where she became an expert. Some auction sales show the amateurs' passion : "the last sale with the auction house Coutau-Bégarie led to several very noteworthy auctions. The most remarkable was certainly the fan sold for 8000 €. From the 18th Century, the leaf is painted on the model of a paintings by Watteau, now lost".  

Some fans, that will soon be put up for auction at Couteau-Bégarie proves that we still uses them at the beginning of the 20th Century : "one of these fans has been created for a World Fair around 1900. It is exceptional and it is a true masterpiece", Georgina Letourmy-Bordier tells us. 

Blind man's bluff, around 1740-1750. Folded fan, skin double page painted in gouache. Estimation : 5000 / 6000 €. Sold on the 23rd Octobre at Coutau-Bégarie


It is a true hunt for clues that allows the expert to find the origin of the fans. Signed and dated, a fan representing a castle, allowed her to discover it was a wedding gift from Duke of Harcourt in 1862, even if the castle had been destroyed in 1944. 

To know more about Georgina Letourmy-Bordier : éventails-anciens.com