Tuesday 25 October 2016

Treasures: Fancy art

Published 20/11/2015 | 02:30

Mealy fan
Mealy fan
Japanese war fan
Katie Taylor's boxing gloves

"Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them," wrote Joseph Addison in 1711 at a time when a fan was an indispensable component in a woman's social kit.

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The fan, in 18th century England, was not merely an instrument for creating a cooling breeze. It was also a communicator. There was, Addison continued scarcely any "Emotion of the mind", which did not produce a "suitable agitation in the fan". "There is the angry flutter, the modest flutter, the timorous flutter, the confused flutter, the merry flutter, and the amorous flutter." A fan, in Addison's article, was "either a prude or coquet according to the nature of the person [who] bears it".

In short fans were for flirting. Last year Lady Ardilaun's tortoiseshell and black lace ball fan sold at Adam's for €600. The fan was printed with a scene of Victorian skaters and came in its original box, stamped "JD Duvelleroy, 167, Regent Street, London". That was the London branch of the famous French fan maker of the 19th century, Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy and operated by his illegitimate son, Jules, who even published leaflets revealing "the language of the fan." For example, twirling the fan in the left hand, apparently, meant "we are being watched." These leaflets were largely promotional and it's likely that the real language of the fan, as Addison describes, operated on a far more subtle and intuitive level. Although Addison described the fan as a female weapon, it seems no self-respecting Samurai would have gone to war without one either.

War fans, in medieval Japan, were used as signalling devices and sometimes also as weapons.

The martial art of tessen-jutsu is a legacy of the "irofan fighting technique" described in Japanese legend. Now, disposable fans printed with advertising logos are handed out free at Japanese festivals. Everybody uses them. It's too hot not to. But Japanese men of a certain age still carry their own fans as a fashion accessory. They'll even have a smart one for dress occasions.

One of the highest prices recently paid for a fan in Ireland was for a Chinese ivory brisé gentleman's fan (c.1760), sold last November at Sheppard's for €6,200. A brisé fan is a folding fan consisting only of decorative sticks with no fabric between them.

Most fans do not reach such high prices. A selection of 19th and early 20th century fans will go under the hammer at Adam's sale of Fine Period Interiors on November 22, with individual lots estimated between €100 and €500. "They all come from a private collector who has had them for a very long time and they might surprise us. Fan collecting is a niche interest but nowadays our catalogue is online and people could be bidding from so many different places," says Kieran O'Boyle of Adam's. They are delicate objects, made in materials that range from vellum (a type of parchment made from calf-skin) to lace, with sticks decorated with silver and mother-of-pearl. A later fan, dating from the 1920s, is made of ostrich feathers. "These things were taken care of. They were brought out for special occasions, looked after and minded," O'Boyle says. A selection of fans that went under the hammer at Mealy's this July included a south-American bird-feather fan with the taxidermy of a humming bird amid a sea of feathers. "Prices for fans have ranged from €50 to €1,500 over the past few years with us," says George Gerard Mealy, auctioneer. Mealy's Mount Congreve sale of 2012 included nine framed fans. One of these (c.1791) was made on a sheet of music dedicated to the Duchess of York; others were decorated with pastoral scenes, with sticks of ivory or mother of pearl.

In general, the value of the fan is in the craftsmanship. "Materials like ivory will be worth more than bone, and hand-painted decoration is more valuable than print.," says Mairead Johnston, fan historian. She is a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Fan Makers, which dates from 1709 and is only of only three Irish women to have been awarded that distinction. "A good fan lies properly when folded. A badly made fan distorts and cracks." Fan making, she explains, was an industry in the 18th century, with fans made in London and Dublin workshops.

Fan design, Johnston argues, did not follow fashions in dress, but relates more to trends in interior design. Adam's Fine Period Interiors auction takes place on 22 November 22 at 12 noon with full details on adams.ie. See also mealys.ie and sheppards.ie.

In the salerooms


The Incredible Hulk swings into action at Dolan's Limerick Art Auction which takes place on November 22 at 2pm in Castletroy Park Hotel, Limerick.

The Marvel comic, Hulk #181 dates from 1974 and features the first appearance of Wolverine. This one is missing a stamp, and is estimated between €750 and €850. Fans of Irish boxing may also be interested in gloves (right) signed by Katie Taylor, Andy Lee and Bernard Dunne, to be sold without a reserve.

The auction includes two paintings by Arthur Maderson, one of the Bathing Pool and the other of the Weir at Lismore (each estimated between €2,800 and €3,800) and two paintings of cattle. One is by Mark O'Neill (€4,000 to €6,000); the other is by Martin Gale (€1,700 to €1,800). An illustrated copy of Memorials of Adare Manor (1865) by Caroline, Countess of Dunraven is estimated between €3,000 and €3,500. Full details are on dolansart.com.


The first of two Christmas auctions at John Weldon Auctioneers in Dublin takes place on November 24 at 2pm. "Two weeks ago I was asked by a 94 year old lady to call to her house and view her collection of silver. She, along with her son, showed me the pieces. Some of the items were wrapped in a 1976 newspaper," explains John Weldon, who will be selling the collection in 70 lots. They include an Irish silver tea caddy (1836) by Richard Smith of Dublin, (€1,000 to €2,000). Full details are on jwa.ie.


Famed for their weekly auction, Herman & Wilkinson of Rathmines in Dublin also run antiques auctions, the next of which is on November 26. Items of furniture include an Irish Victorian giltwood couch. There is also a small collection of Irish swords including an Irish Army dress sword and two rare stamp collections. One of these, the famous penny black, was the world's first adhesive stamp issued in Britain in 1840. The collection also has several Irish overprints.

For further details see hermanwilkinson.ie.

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