A Fan with a Story

Of the 300 folding fans in the Cooper-Hewitt, Nation Design Museum’s collection, very few have as fascinating a provenance as this beautiful fan designed by the artist Simon Lissim (1900-1981).  Lissim was a prolific painter, stage designer, illustrator, metalwork designer, ceramicist, and textile designer whose works are found in the collections of over 70 museums worldwide.  In addition to this folding fan, the Cooper-Hewitt collection includes drawings, porcelain, silverware, and buttons designed by Lissim.

Drawing: Design for a Plate, 20th century. Designed by Simon Lissim. Gift of Simon Lissim. 1974-82-26.

Plate, 1927. Designed by Simon Lissim. Bequest of Simon Lissim. 1981-37-2. 

Simon Lissim was born in Kiev and began his career as a stage designer for the Kiev Repertory Theater.  He was closely allied with the Russian theater world, including Sergei Diaghilev and Léon Bakst. Lissim moved to Paris in 1919, where he continued to design for the theater, opera, and ballet throughout Europe.  It was in Paris, around 1922, that Lissim designed and decorated this fan as an engagement gift for his fiancée, Irène Zalchopine whose initials, “IZ” are centrally placed on the fan leaf.  The abstract exotic natural motifs, which he used to decorate the fan closely relate to his other work of the period, as illustrated in the images below from a book in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Plate 11, Textile Design (1926), from Simon Lissim, by Raymond Cogniat, published in Paris, 1933.

Plate 14, Vase, “The Bird” (1924), produced by the Manufacture National de Sèvres, from Simon Lissim, by Raymond Cogniat, published in Paris, 1933.

The fan was assembled, using Lissim’s painted leaf, by the famous fan house in Paris, Duvelleroy.  The rivet of the fan, which is the metal pin at the base of the fan that holds the tortoiseshell sticks together, is also embossed with Irène’s initials. 

In 1941, Lissim emigrated to the United States, where he continued with his design work and became involved in design education through a program at the New York Public Library and as a professor at the City College of the City University of New York.  In an interesting footnote to this story, Lissim’s gift of the fan to Cooper-Hewitt in 1973 was made in memory of Agnes Howson Waples (1874-1968). Mrs. Waples was the mother of Dorothea Howson Waples (1907-1994), who worked in the New York Public Library from 1939 until the year 1946, when she married Simon Lissim.

Museum Number: 
1973-73-1