Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Unfolding Pictures: Brisé fan with Princess Augusta’s Monogram, c.1810

c. 1810
Tortoise Shell and Red Paste
The Royal Collection

Queen Mary’s interest in the history of the Royal Family was quite natural considering that she, herself, was the daughter of Her Serene Highness, Princess Mary Adelaide of Cambridge, one of the few remaining granddaughters of King George III. Queen Mary had a particular fascination with George III and his wife Queen Charlotte whom Mary thought she resembled (she did, in fact, look quite a lot like Queen Charlotte). Though Princess Mary Adelaide's marriage to the Duke of Teck was morganatic (meaning that he was, technically, not her equal being simply a Duke while she was a Princess, albeit a Serene Highness and not a Royal Highness), Mary of Teck took Queen Victoria’s point of view and didn’t let these minor differences distract her from realizing the importance of her father’s family history as well.
Queen Mary’s maternal grandmother (The Cambridge side of the family), was Princess Augusta of Cambridge, daughter of King George III. Princess Augusta was also a collector, but not to the monumental proportions that her granddaughter was. It’s important not to confuse this Princess Augusta with Augusta, the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg who was Mary’s maternal aunt (sister of Mary Adelaide and daughter of Princess Augusta and the Duke of Cambridge) and one of her dearest confidantes. Even I got temporarily confused when researching this object. Everybody shared the same ten names, so sometimes it’s hard to keep them straight.

Upon the 1840 death of Princess Augusta of Cambridge, an inventory was taken of her possessions. The lot included a set of fans which were valued at over £500. According to the Royal Collection, “these, together with the rest of the Princess’s estate, appear to have been divided among her family, a group of her fans being noted subsequently in Queen Victoria’s collection.” Six of these fans ended up in the permanent Royal Collection where they continue a traditional association with Princess Augusta. Here’s where the confusion can easily be seen. Even the Royal Collection confused the two Augustas. It’s recently been realized that several other fans described as having belonged to “one of the Queen’s [Mary's] aunts” also belonged to Princess Augusta. Most of the fans are brisé fans, which were extremely fashionable in England at the start of the Eighteenth Century.

This is one of ones that got away. A brisé fan is a fan where instead of a leaf of paper or leather, the sticks become gradually larger at the top to form the fan itself. This one is crafted from tortoise shell and red paste and dates to about 1810. There’s no doubt as to the ownership of this fan as it bears the monogram of Princess Augusta. Like many objects which had fallen out of the Royal Collection, this one was later purchased by Queen Mary who was eager to return it to its proper place.

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