Thursday, August 15, 2013

Unfolding Pictures: The Cabriolet Fan, 1755

In the 1750’s, the French went quite mad over the introduction of the cabriolet—a new type of carriage which was so lightweight that it could be pulled by only one horse. The cabriolet was the height of fashion, so much so that it became iconic of the era. Ladies designed patches shaped like a cabriolet to adorn their faces, and atop their heads, they wore elaborate wigs and hats fashioned to resemble this popular means of transportation. Men even had images of cabriolets sewn into their stockings.

The Cabriolet Fan
French, 1755
Acquired by Mary of Teck
Paper, Ivory, Mother-of-Pearl
Crown Copyright
The Royal Collection
Image Courtesy of
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
This obsession, of course, irritated the English, who thought the French people excessive, but nonetheless mimicked them. Cabriolet fans were crafted with scenes of merry people riding in the contraptions. Very often these fans were quite elaborately assembled with not simply one leaf on the sticks, but several concentric leaves.

This fan with carved ivory sticks, paper leaves and mother-of-pearl guards shows a scene of courtiers riding in a cabriolet. It is listed in the official documents of the Royal Collection as having been purchased in 1915 by Queen Mary. Other records, however indicate that this fan, for decades, belonged to Ida, Lady Bradford—one of Mary of Teck’s closest friends and “Extra Lady of the Bedchamber.” It is documented that Mary of Teck had long admired this rare antique fan, and that to oblige her friend, Lady Bradford gave the fan to the Queen. Regardless of how she came to own it, Queen Mary proudly displayed the fan in a gilt case in her bedroom at Marlborough House for many years.

No comments: