Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Unfolding Pictures: The Lilies Fan, 1895

The Lilies Fan
French, 1895
Presented to Queen Mary
The Royal Collection
A beautiful example of the art of late Nineteenth Century fan-making, this delightful hand fan features a paper leaf backed with kid leather mounted à l’anglaise with blond tortoiseshell guards and sticks decorated in gold, enamel and diamonds.

Known as “The Lilies Fan” for its floral decoratio, it was a gift to Queen Mary (Mary of Teck, Consort of King George V) from Princess Hélène (1871-1951), the second daughter of the Comte de Paris and the younger sister of Princess Amélie.

Now, that might not seem too strange--one Princess giving another former Princess (then Queen at the time) a luxurious gift. But, let’s examine the history between these two women for a moment.

In August 1890 the Princess Hélène had become engaged to Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. Albert Victor (known as Prince “Eddie”) was the eldest son of the Prince of Wales (son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, later King Edward VII) and his wife, Princess Alexandra (later Queen Alexandra. Prince Eddie was obsessed with Princess Hélène. But, Eddie had a habit of becoming infatuated with pretty young ladies. In fact, that’s about all he was good for.

The Great Grandchildren of French King Louis-Philippe
That's Princess Hélène there on the left, sitting up in the
dark dress.
The Royal Collection
The engagement was called off. Some say that it was on the instruction of Princess Hélène’s father, but there’s strong evidence to suggest that Queen Victoria disapproved of her grandson’s choice of mates. Princess Hélène was, after all, a Catholic (gasp!) and that just wasn’t going to work. The Prince of Wales—as heir presumptive to the throne—was expected to be King one day, and therefore, head of the Church of England. For his consort to be Roman Catholic would have been problematic to say the least.

And, so, Eddie being the resilient chap that he was found himself, in December 1891, engaged to Princess Victoria Mary of Teck (later Queen Mary). We’ve discussed what happened next. After Eddie’s unexpected death in that coming January, both of his fiancées grieved his loss. Princess Victoria Mary (May) of Teck soon accepted the marriage proposal of Eddie’s younger brother, the Duke of York (later King George V). In June 1895, Princess Hélène married Prince Emanuele of Savoy (1869-1931), 2nd Duke of Aosta.

The Princes Albert Victor and George of Wales
The Royal Collection
This fan was given to her for her wedding. The guards are adorned with the arms of France and Savoy, set in diamonds. But, was Princess Hélène happy with her new husband or did she always mourn the death of Eddie who—even had he lived—would not have been her husband in the first place.

Queen Mary’s biographer, James Pope-Hennessy, wrote in 1953:

On the grandiose tomb erected to the Duke of Clarence’s (Eddie’s) memory [at Windsor] there hung until quite recently a wreath of immortelles inscribed simply, ‘Hélène’. And Princess Hélène it is who deserves to have the last word on the subject of the Duke. In November 1892 Queen Victoria had a conversation with this charming girl who had so faithfully loved her not very lovable grandson. Je l’aimais tant, said Princess Hélène, adding, somewhat surprisingly, Il était si bon.
So, it’s rather odd that Princess Hélène would present this fan to Queen Mary who had, in effect, taken her place as the bride-to-be to the Prince of Wales. But, good ol’ Mary had a way of getting things that she admired from people. We’ll never quite know how this fan came to rest in the Royal Collection.

The floral painting on the leaf is by Madeleine Jeanne Lemaire (née Colle; 1845-1928). She was a prominent French fan-painter and illustrator who was quite popular with the court, particularly amongst the descendants of Queen Victoria. A watercolor by Lemaire was listed in the catalogue of the contents of Queen Victoria’s summer home, Osbourne House in 1876. Said painting was a gift from the Prince de Joinville to Queen Victoria, but it seems to be missing. No trace of it can be found. However, a concert program designed by Lemaire from June 1898 remains in the Royal Collection—preserved in one of the Duchess of Connaught’s photograph albums.

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