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Sleeping Beauties - Fan Museum

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

A UNIQUE collection of fans will be on display at the Fan Museum in an exhibition entitled Sleeping Beauties – from November 4, 2008 to January 11, 2009.

Collected by Duke Augustus of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg in the early 19th century, the collection has lain dormant at Schloss Friedenstein in Gotha, East Germany for many years. However, it has recently come out of wraps and has now been shown in several locations in Germany though never in other parts of Europe.

The Gotha fans will be shown together with some fans with similarities from The Fan Museum’s collections.

In 1840, on the eve of his wedding to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha presented his wife-to-be with four fans, which she refers to in her diary. These fans, together with others given to her by Prince Albert’s brother Ernest (the young Queen hesitated in her choice of brothers, before deciding on Albert), came from the collection of their uncle, Duke Augustus of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. Two of these fans are graciously being lent by Her Majesty The Queen.

One of the most interesting, or perhaps more intriguing, elements of this collection is the fact that it was assembled by a man. No accident of fortune this, but the result of the Duke’s deliberate interest in a small number of fans that were already in the castle at Gotha.

Clearly, Duke Augustus was a man of taste and discernment who added to a small collection which he had the sensitivity to recognise as an offshoot of the decorative arts. His choice includes many Chinoiserie fans of the end of the 18th century and a good number of French fans of the revolutionary period, mostly Royalist fans – not surprisingly, since the Duke was present at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, after which in 1818, the Tsar of Russia presented him with a magnificent lacquer cockade fan which will be seen in this exhibition.

Many of the fans in this collection were purchased for Duke Augustus by a Mr. Meyer, an agent who was buying for him in England, and there exists in the Schloss an important correspondence between these two, which not only refers to the fans, but which also throws light on the methods of acquiring objects and adding to a collection by a member of the aristocracy.

Those were the days when a collector could safely preserve anonymity and when his (or her) collection was reserved for the delectation of a limited audience. In this case in particular, one can detect a certain modesty in an individual willing to trust another person, his agent, to interpret his particular predilections.

A fully illustrated catalogue (in German) showing all the fans of the Duke’s collection with an in-depth investigation into their provenance and history will be on sale at The Fan Museum.

Fashion in the Palm of Your Hand is currently on display at the Fan Museum.
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Tickets: £4 (adults), £3 (concessions), free for OAPs and disabled on Tuesdays from 2 to 5pm (except groups), free for children under 7.

Times: Tuesday to Saturday from 11am to 5pm, Sunday from 12noon to 5pm.

The Fan Museum, 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10.

Sleeping Beauties Gallery