Thursday, January 6, 2011

Unfolding Pictures: A Fan Reputedly Owned by Marie-Antoinette, 1720-30

Louise, Queen of the Belgians
Franz Winterhalter
The Royal Collection

When Queen Victoria’s favorite Uncle, Leopold I, King of the Belgians married, Victoria became close friends with her new Aunt Louise. Louise, Queen of the Belgians, shared Victoria’s passion for fine clothes and jewels, particularly those of the French variety. Of course, Louise came by this passion for French design quite naturally. She was, after all, the daughter of French King Louis-Philippe.

Louise often shopped in France for Queen Victoria who was busy with other things—such as being monarch of Britain. Queen Louise did a great deal of shopping for Victoria as she prepared for her wedding to Prince Albert. Louise was often assisted in her shopping expeditions by her sister Clémentine.

On November 25, 1839, Queen Louise sent the following letter to Queen Victoria:

I send you with this letter 3 fans which Clémentine choose [sic] for you and I enclose the bill which she was obliged to pay in the shop - as she would not [declare] her name and could not venture to give yours . . . I send herewith a magnificent fan which belonged formerly to Marie Antoinette. She says it is remarkably fine but it is dear it costs 500 f. about £20.
Curiously, she didn’t send the fans, as she indicated. She did, however, send the bill. The fans came on December 23, 1839 under cover of a different letter:

…the fans which you ordered are going with this letter. I hope you will like them. The small one which belonged to Marie Antoinette is I think very curious.

Fan Reputedly Owned by Marie-Antionette
Purchased for Queen Victoria, 1839
The Royal Collection
Queen Victoria did, in fact, like the fans. She was especially fond of the fan that was reputedly owned by Marie-Antoinette which she described in her journal as being “really curious” and which was admired by everyone in her court. There’s really no way of proving that the fan had once belonged to Marie-Antoinette. It’s likely to be untrue. Marie-Antoinette had become something of an icon of Marilyn Monroe proportions by the time of Victoria’s reign and things relating to her were considered highly fashionable. Historically, this fan, by the time it was made between 1720 and 1730, would have been considered quite unfashionable by Marie-Antoinette herself.

Regardless of its previous ownership, it is an excellent example of a rare lacquered brisé fan and was quite a valuable antique in its own right. Nearly three hundred years later, it remains in the Royal Collection as does its original leather case and the correspondence sent by Queen Louise.

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