Pricey Antique Chinese Fans Works of Art
As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, June 2009
Though they look delicate, Chinese fans have survived centuries of use. 18th and 19th century examples are popular with the collectors who can afford them. Since the early 20th century, they have been framed and displayed as decorative art. Rightly so when prices can range from the high hundreds to thousands of dollars. Various types turn up at auction with prices depending on material, quality of art, age and rarity.
The folding fan, most popular in the Western world, probably had its origins in China in the tenth century. They became popular in the fifteenth century. Early versions were usually a semicircular folded piece of paper or silk mounted on bamboo, sandalwood or ivory. By the Ming dynasty the fan leaves were painted by top artists.
The Chinese began making fans for the Western market by the late 17th century.
By the 18th century, thanks to the growing China Trade, large numbers of painted fans were exported to Europe and became fashionable. They were decorated to appeal to the European taste often with European subjects. Because of their popularity European fan makers imitated the Oriental themes. This type of art was also used in furniture and decorative accessories and is known as "chinoiserie". The subjects varied from landscape scenes to Chinese life. Collectors look for views of various ports as well as the “hundred faces” or “Mandarin” fan. The many figures depicted on the fan had painted ivory faces and silk clothing, appliquéd to the background.
The Bris’e fans were the most popular form. They were made from sticks of ivory, tortoiseshell and horn, held together with silk ribbons.
Some of the most exquisite paper fans combined painted scenes with silver and enamel as well as gold and lacquer. Embroidery was also used on silk and worked into open filigree sticks.
The talent of the Chinese ivory carvers was evident when they created pierced ivory fans. Best examples were the large circular “cockade” fans made from 1795 to around 1810 of pierced and sculpted ivory.
Many of the fans came with their own cases. Sadly most have been lost over the years.
CLUES: Don't pay a high price for a European fan in the Chinoiserie style, purporting to be Chinese. Look closely at the style of the painting to determine if it has a European look. Chinoiserie fans can sell at auction for a couple of hundred dollars, while the authentic Chinese versions are in the thousands of dollars.
Be wary of fans that have printed motifs, rather than hand-painted and plastic sticks. Beginning collectors can be fooled. Use a jewelers loup.
So many fans were made in the 19th century that there is always the chance of discovery in a drawer or trunk.
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