Monday, 8 September 2014

A Day at The Fan Museum in Greenwich

I had the privilege of visiting one of the 50 best unusual museums in London. This was an excellent first and an inspiration to scour the city for the other 49.

Found at the back of the ladies' cubicle door: an extract from 'The Grand Magazine', London, November 1760

On the way, turn left first at the DLR exit for Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich to view the Cutty Sark, a British clipper ship built in 1869. One of the three historic sea vessels on the Core Collection of the National Historic Ships Register, it was gutted by fire in 2007 while under conservation and has been reopened to the public in 2012.

Turn back right to our destination in Greenwich.

The Fan Museum is located at 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London SE10 8ER, in the Greenwich World Heritage Site. After nearly a decade of living in London, I took the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) for the first time and it was such a pleasant ride. Unlike most Underground, it's airconditioned and winds around the Southeast side of London where you have scenic views of the quays, boats, the River Thames, and the contrasting old and modern cityscape.

Constructed in 1721, the Georgian building that is now home to The Fan Museum has been refurbished and lovingly restored to its 18th century opulence.

A fan-shaped flower bed at the entrance

The door to the museum

Look closely and you'll notice the Oriental motif of the door entrance ornament, which is a tribute to the Chinese origin of fan-making

The Fan Museum houses more than 4,000 fans which are not displayed all at once for spatial and curation reasons. Some are from the personal collection of the founder, Helene Alexander, and some are gifts from friends of the museum. The oldest in the collection dates back from the 11th century. There's a permanent display (shown below) that showcases the art of fan-making, materials used, and history.

Mother of pearl carved brise fan. Made in the Far East for the European market. c. 1830

Mixed Brussels lace fan leaf, c. 1890s

Left: A Southern Italian olivewood cockade fan, with a mirror on one side of the guard and a swallow with the word RICORDO on the other side. The cockade (leaf part) is made of stiffened printed cotton. c. 1870, donated by Dr M.J. Forth; Back Left: from Marromeu, Mozambique, c. 1950s, given by Mrs O C Trumble.

Wooden monture and paper leaf that illustrates fan-making. Spanish, c. 1840s, donated by Mr Iveson Wheatley

In the middle is a Chinese ceremonial fan made of lacquered carved cinnabar, from the Qian Long period which was from around 1735. It was from the collection of the Mitsui family in Japan.

Telescopic fans came at the end of the 18th century in England. These ones are from the 19th century showing how a fan can be retracted in progressive stages

3-in-1 fan inspired by Matryoshka Russian dolls: the smallest fan, when closed, fits into the empty space of the medium fan, which in turn, fits perfectly into the largest fan. This was designed and made by contemporary fan maker Sylvain Le Guen in 2007. It's from the personal collection of founder Helene Alexander.

Painted by Munich-born Impressionist Walter Richard Sickert, he was an important influence on distinctively British styles of avant-garde art in the 20th century. Here, Dot Hetherington is depicted on stage at the Old Bedford Theatre, singing 'The Boy I love is up in the Gallery'. This fan was presented to Florence Pash, a friend of Sickert, and remained in her family's possession until it was purchased by The Fan Museum with support from the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and anonymous donation.

Portrait of the museum founders Helene Alexander and her husband Dicky. Their project was supported by various companies, charitable trusts and private individuals. The museum opened in 1991, where Ms Alexander's personal collection of over 1000 fans, mostly 18th century, have found a permanent home for fan lovers to view and admire.

Thematic exhibits run on rotation throughout the year. From June to end of September 2014, the theme revolves around fans and how they've been used in advertising.


La Belle Époque, or 'the beautiful era', was that time during the late Victorian and Edwardian period when advertising fans were made. Many established poster artists designed fans, or their original poster designs were adapted to fit the fan format. Fans were made to promote hotels and beverages. Moet and Chandon and Bénédictine commissioned sketches by George Goursat to promote their brands.

Revival styles were a counterpoint to modernism, often drawn From France's rich artistic heritage and 18th century art and design. Duvelleroy was the leading fan maker during the late 19th century whose advertising fan range 'Genre Ancien' was inspired by old prints from the company archive. Designs combined contrasting rococo and neo-classicism.

Orientalism was in vogue between 1911 and 1914 when prints were inspired by the Near, Middle, and Far East. Russian ballet delighted Parisian society, while harem pants, lampshade tunics, and Kimono-style mantles permeated fashion journals.

The 'roaring twenties'. Cafes, cabarets and restaurants in Paris were frequented by 'bright young things' elegantly draped in the latest designs by Madeleine Vionnet and the Callot sisters. Charlestown and Shimmy ruled the dancefloor. Excess was the order of the day. Femme Fatales were ideal. Advertising reflected the glamour and decadence of the period. The fan in the middle was made for champagne brand Louis Roederer by an unidentified artist. A female figure wearing a draped evening dress holds a large ostrich feather fan, c. 1925-30.

A blonde woman with pencil-thin eyebrows and magenta lips, by an unidentified artist, could have been designed to appeal to cosmetic companies, c. 1925-30.

Éventails Chambrelent was the leading name in printed objects of publicity in France in the late 19th century. Many of the fans in this section were designed and/or manufactured by them. They also made hats, umbrellas, children's games and masks. They held patents for cockade varieties (top shelf) named 'Frou-Frou' and 'Vent du Nord'.

The airline fans from the late 1950s to early 1970s, made by Japanese manufacturer Daimaru. These ones promoted airlines affiliated to BOAC,  which is now called British Airways.

The BOAC (British Airways) promotional fan

Deco Distilled and Graphic Styles

Unidentified artist for Charmereine. You can see the Eiffel Tower framed by fireworks in the form of promotional inscriptions. The other side is printed with images of models wearing Charmereine corseted undergarments. French, 1930s

René Gruau for 'Les Bas', Christian Dior. Shaped like a bird's wing with the stylish illustration of a dress and exposed leg. Signed by René Gruau. French, c. 1950s

The museum guide to visitors mentions that even the ladies' lavatories are filled with fan tributes.

Details make up the charm of The Fan Museum's ladies' lavatories. See the cat above? And the fan-shaped mirror?

A porcelain jar in the corner..

A porcelain vase...

A brass bow hook...

Brass loo roll holder...

Fan-decorated tiles...

Chinoiserie wallpaper where fans are featured such as in the image on the lower left

Matchy-matchy porcelain fan-shaped soap dish with a fan-shaped soap

I took a double take --this award actually exists and they won it!

The canopied footpath to The Orangery didn't miss out on the fan motif

The Orangery and tea room dedicated to the mother of one of the founders, named Victoria

photo courtesy of Arnold Maneze

The murals were painted by Jane Barraclough, a theatrical and garden designer. The French doors open up into the garden. The Orangery can be booked for intimate weddings and reception, corporate hospitality events, product launches, lectures, conferences and filming.

The Japanese style garden, done as a tribute to its sponsor, Canon UK, has a formal parterre in the shape of a fan

Me and my friend with Jane Barraclough's mural behind us

The Orangery's Afternoon Tea has been voted as 'Best Value Afternoon Tea' by the Daily Telegraph in 2012. There are two sittings on Tuesday and Sunday: 2:15pm and 3:45pm where booking is strongly advised. On Fridays and Saturdays, it's open between 12.30pm and 4:30pm when there's no need to book.

At the entrance to the museum shop is a 19th century wooden Japanese fan-shaped shop sign painted in Chinese style. I must say that the souvenirs and gifts at The Fan Museum shop are one of the best selections I've seen in all the museums I've been. I couldn't decide on which souvenir to pick, so I went for tea first to make up my mind.

Duvelleroy, the leading couture fan maker of 19th century Paris that still operates up to these days, came up with a 'dictionary' of a fan's unspoken language, perhaps as a publicity tool for the House's creations. I didn't realise I've been asking everyone to follow me with how I carry my fan on the tube.

A selection of the museum shop's souvenirs and gifts that range from fans of course, to mirrors, perfume flacon, scarves, stationeries, pens, postcards, cushion, bags, wine glass, among others. Not pictured is the jewellery and accessory section. 

Coffee table books about fans, magnets (don't forget them), bookmarks, wall hook and wall clock (as seen on the left), soap, wrapping paper, and toiletry bags. By the till is a wall lamp in the shape of a fan.

After much ado about my souvenir shopping list, I settled for these two beautiful pieces ('I can come back for the rest', I convinced and assured myself): a replica Brussels lace fan and laser cut wooden fan earrings. I found out that Lady Muck of Whitstable does other reasonably priced quirky pieces which appeal to my inner 21-year-old fashionista self who's gone to join the rat race, she's been buried in my piles of bills and grown-up issues.

My fan purchase is for functional reasons when I visit tropical and Mediterranean countries and when the heat on the London Undergound is unbearable in summer. But with the few I own now, one of which is a friend's gift that has Bavarian castles printed on it (my friend who's in the photo with me looked for one in Barbados but only found turtle place mats and fans that looked like broom reed), and the exquisite designs and prints at The Fan Museum shop that I intend to go back for, I may have found a new collectible fixation once reserved for shoes, but never for fridge magnets.

The exhibits will be refreshed based on the theme in the beginning of October 2014. For more info, please click The Fan Museum. I might even see you there!


  1. Oh, I loved this post so much, especially the "language of the fan." My mum used to collect different types of fans, wooden, porcelain, etc.
    Thanks for sharing this lovely post. :)
    The African Elephant

    1. Thanks Madison, I was thinking you would! I'm going back for the next exhibit. I think the theme is about beauty. You're welcome. Glad you loved it :)

  2. What a beautiful museum! And, through your wonderful photos , I could visit it as well!! So, thanks for sharing...

    1. Thank you Dan. You're welcome! I'm glad you loved it. Thanks for visiting :)

  3. I had never heard of this museum. It's certainly the kind of place that I would enjoy visiting!

  4. I am so pleased that you discovered this wonderful museum as I just didn't know of its existence. The attention to detail really appeals to me, such as the fans on the doors and on the canopy to the orangerie (what a pretty tea room too!) I have often brought back fans from our travels and last year bought a couple as gifts from Vietnam. There are so many interesting ones here especially the promotional fans. I appreciate the time you have taken to produce this post with all the background information and photos. A fascinating post! I shall have to visit the museum some time.

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment miss b. I always look forward to yours as it's so well-thought of. I did think that you're one of those who'll enjoy this post. Please go and visit the next time you are in London. Just to remind you, exhibit theme changes in the beginning of October. Have fun!

  5. I love that you have set yourself a challenge of visiting these museums. I was doing some work in our cit centre's museum cafe the other day and then had yet another look around. The fan museum looks stunning. I don't use fans for the traditional functions ( i love the heat and sun too much to waft it away) but I do have one as a display in my room that I bought from Barcelona - they make very pretty ornaments. Have a great weekend xx

    1. I had a couple days off after my holidays and thought I didn't wanna spend it lounging at home. Thought of visiting museums, but not the major ones. Stumbled upon this list of 50 unusual museums in London. The Fan Museum was top of the list. It was really enjoyable. Yes indeed, they make pretty ornaments. Hope you're having a great weekend x

  6. Lovely Museum - my daughters have a penchant for fans - they would have loved this museum. Thanks for stopping by my blog, so nice to find yours :)

    1. You're welcome, and many thanks for visiting mine. Maybe you can come and visit when you're in London. It's the only one in the world dedicated solely to fans, which makes it even more interesting :)

  7. Well, this is a marvellous place :) I would have enjoyed this very much. I love learning about the history of various items and fans are perfect. All the different ones are amazing. I quite liked the Russian one with the baby fan to fit inside the other. And the attention to detail the museum gives is perfect, all the fans everywhere. I love it a lot!! I hope to go one day. Thank you for visiting my blog doll, I really appreciate it, lovely to meet you. I too will pop back again with pleasure :) Have a darling week my dear. Kizzy. xx

    1. Many thanks Kizzy for dropping by, and for your lovely comment. Yes, you must visit when you come. Lovely to meet you, too. See you again x

  8. Hub's been to UK but I never have but you know he'd be at the boats and the docks and I'd be at the fan museum. I don't know when we'll ever get there, so thanks for sharing!

    1. I can imagine that you'll dine at the Cutty Sark restaurant after visiting the Fan Museum :) I hope you get to visit London one day. Thanks for dropping by x


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