Thursday, March 24, 2011

Unfolding Pictures: Queen Alexandra’s Photographic Fan, 1871

Photographic Fan
Wooden sticks and guards, mother-of-pearl and silver pin
Possibly decorated by Princess Alice.
The Royal Collection
This unusual fan was presented to Queen Alexandra (while still Princess of Wales) in 1871, on the event of her thirty-seventh birthday. Though the donor of the gift is unrecorded, many suggest that the fan was a gift from Princess Alice—Queen Victoria’s third child—as a hastily-made gift for her sister-in-law.
Alexandra’s thirty-seventh birthday was not a happy one. Her husband, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) was terribly ill with Typhoid fever and was not expected to live. The entire family gathered by his bedside and Alexandra’s birthday was all but forgotten. Later, when Edward recovered, the family decided to celebrate Alexandra’s birthday. Princess Alice, who was quite crafty and artistic, had, in her possession, a collection of plain brisé fans which had been imported from Austria for the purposes of being decorated later. The fans featured wooden sticks with mother-of-pearl details. Though its’ not certainty, it’s believed that Princess Alice decorated this fan herself with photographs from her own collection of images of Alexandra and Edward’s children

The fan features painted swags of garland which spell out the name, “Alexandra” and the guard is inscribed, “Many happy returns of the day, Dec. 1, 1871.” The painting and application of the photographs is rather sloppy. If Princess Alice did, in fact, assemble this piece, she clearly did so in a hurry as her work was usually crisp and unparalleled.

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