Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Unfolding Pictures: A Brazilian Bird Fan, 1880

The Victoria & Albert Museum

We’ve looked at similar Brazilian fans before. They’re both lovely and horrible all at once. Yes, they’re pretty, but, when you think about the fact that there’s a dead bird stuck on them, it’s just kind of yucky, too. Still, they’re very interesting pieces and it’s a miracle any have survived.

This fan is composed of an ivory handle which rises into a base of pink feathers and a central portion of fluffy white marabou down. A stuffed hummingbird perches on sprays of roses and leaves made of pink, white and green feathers. The stems of the flowers are wire wrapped with silk. To tempt the hummingbird, three real beetles are attached to the feathery foliage. Surprisingly, the original box survives.


Why a dead hummingbird? For some reason, during the last three decades of the Nineteenth Century, there was a real passion for using parts of dead animals as ornaments, both in fashion and the decorative arts. Though numerous writers wrote contemporary articles about “the barbarities inherent in this trade,” the fashion continued to grow in popularity.

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