Jacob Moss, Curator of London’s Fan Museum, traces the evolution of over 200 years of fan painting, using examples from Cooper Hewitt and The Fan Museum collections. This lecture is part of the Morse Historic Design Lecture Series.

With the recent resurgence of interest in hand-held fan design, Cooper Hewitt’s historic collection of fans is attracting new scholarly attention. Cooper Hewitt holds over 300 important examples of fan artistry, including the most exalted of this coveted accessory, the hand-painted fan.

In seventeenth-century Europe, the art of fan painting rose from a lesser branch of the decorative arts to become a specialized craft controlled by various guilds in France, England, and other European nations. Although new technologies, such as machine stamping and printing, permitted a broader market for printed fans for the middle classes, the hand-painted fan remained an essential fashion item for the aristocracy. This resulted in an ever-increasing rise in status of the painters; the point that, by the latter half of the nineteenth century, major artists used fans as canvases and signed their work while creating these luxe objects.

The Enid and Lester Morse Historic Design Lecture Series is made possible by the generous support of Mr. and Mrs. Lester S. Morse, Jr.